Category Archives: Wage

The Undervalued Small Farmer and Food Insecurity

The average hourly wage for someone working in farming in the US is less than $13 an hour. Ignore the numbers for the total average income of farm families, because they nearly always include the income of one full-time wage earner. For a couple, it could be either partner, but trust me, one of them works a full day and then returns to work the farm until dark during most of the year. And guaranteed, the work they do when they come home is much harder than what they do at their outside job.

I thought maybe that had changed in the years since we had a small farm, but apparently it hasn’t. I recently spoke with a young farm wife and mother who stopped by to pick up some tomato starts on her way home from her office job. She named several women from neighboring farms who were also in the workforce, even though they’d rather be home weeding vegetables in preparation for the weekend farmers’ markets and being with their kids.

If you farm in the West, where heat and drought are growing worse every year, you may have foregone planting the usual vegetable crops, culled your animals, and stripped your fruit trees. That’s because most of California is under drought emergency, which is not expected to improve.

So where will our food come from if the West Coast farmers are forced to give up? The large corporate farms typically grow one crop, and this lack of diversity also means a lack of food security. We rely most heavily on Western states for the bulk of our US-grown vegetables and fruits. Farms in other regions, including here in New England, are often smaller, more diverse, and run by a couple, one of whom earns that “less than $13 an hour.” Drought and temps are increasing here too.

One of California’s main crops is almonds. We raise and export most of the nuts grown on a million acres in this $10 billion market. One almond requires one gallon of water to grow to maturity. That’s a lot of water. Raising beef requires a lot of water too—for the corn to feed them. We also export beef and other meat products. The companies who make the big bucks benefit from big government subsidies. Remember that small farmer who sells through a CSA or at the farm markets? The only subsidy she gets is maybe a “thank you” from someone who knows the hard work that went into that lovely tomato or beautiful squash, which she probably picked before you even had your first cup of coffee that morning.

If ever there were a subsidy that should be created, it would be one for the small farmers, because they deserve to make a living and because eventually you may have to look to them for much of your family’s food. Part of our trade deficit with China is made up of imported food products that include 90 percent of the vitamin C consumed by Americans, 78 percent of the tilapia, 70 percent of the apple juice, 50 percent of the cod, 43 percent of the processed mushrooms and 23 percent of the garlic. Right, that apple juice you give your kids probably didn’t come from New England or the Northwest, nor did the cod come from coastal Maine. I won’t even go into the health and safety concerns surrounding so many imports, nor will I elaborate on the geo-political risks associated with our food security or lack thereof. And if small farmers decide to switch professions so they can actually “feed” their own families, well . . . Use your imagination.

Why must we use our resources (water) to export more than $4 billion worth of almonds, for example, when we could be helping farmers and orchardists produce safe, locally grown food for us? Why did we import $10 billion worth of vegetables in 2020, equal to a third of the quantity available to US consumers? We rely on California for most of our US-produced produce, with Mexico being the secondary source.

Getting back to climate change, or what it was known as before the term frightened too many media progressives, climate catastrophe. What happens when California can no longer supply our food, if China shuts down exports, if there is political upheaval south of the border, if hackers shut down our transportation systems? So many possibilities. How friendly are you with the lady next door who grows vegetables in her little raised bed garden? Maybe you should get to know her better—and ask her for tips on growing some of your own.

The post The Undervalued Small Farmer and Food Insecurity first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Why Middle-Class Left Liberals Should Dump the Democratic Party: Finding Common Ground with Socialists

Many of you in the middle class are opposed to socialism. You still think there is some chance for you under capitalism and you fear that the socialists will take what little you have and divide it among the shiftless and thriftless. You need not have the slightest fear. The socialist has no use for your small capital; it would do (them) not the least good. (They are) after the earth, the trusts, and the machinery of production. Besides, soon you will have nothing to divide. When the big capitalists get through with you, you will be ready for us. You may not be ready yet, but you are ripening very rapidly. When you have been stripped of what you have, when you have become proletarians, when you have become expropriated, you will be ready to join us in expropriating the expropriators.

— Speech by Eugene Debs over 100 years ago in Chicago about the middle-class fear of socialism

Orientation

Almost five years ago I wrote an article in Counterpunch: “Lost at Sea: Left Liberals Have No Party.” In that article I challenged the blithe interchangeability of the words “liberal” and “democrat”. I tracked eight historical changes of liberalism from left-liberal, to centrist-liberal to right-center liberals (neoliberals). I also argued that the words liberal and democracy are used interchangeably by liberals, even though it wasn’t until the 20th century that liberals were clearly for democracy (translated as universal suffrage for white males).

The problem with my article as I see it today is that I lumped upper middle-class left liberals with middle-class liberals. Two years later I wrote another article called “The Greater of Two Evils: Why the Democratic Party is worse than the Republican Party for 85% of the U.S. Population.” In that article, I outlined how, since the 2008 crash, the social classes whose wealth grew were the ruling class, the upper-class and the upper-middle-class, constituting about 15% of all social classes. Everyone else was doing worse, including the middle-class.

In my first article I slurred the differences between the upper-middle-class and the middle-class, advocating for both classes to get out of the Democratic Party. I have since come to see (as I will get into later) that the upper-middle-class has done very well under the umbrella of the Democrats and it is not in their material interests to leave. This is no longer true of the middle-class. Historically, the material interests of the middle-class and the upper-middle-class has more in common with each other than the working-class. In other words, the difference between news anchors, lawyers, senior managers on the one hand and high school teachers, librarians and supervisors on the other hand are more differences of degree than kind. After all, they all did mental work, as opposed to the physical work of the working-class. However, in the last 50 years middle-class life has gotten far worse than the life of the upper middle-class. It has gotten bad enough to be able to say it is closer to the working-class. Whether they realize it or not, for middle-class left liberals, the Democratic Party has left the building 40 years ago.

My claim in this article is that:

  1. Middle-class FDR liberals need to leave the democrats and be part of building a new party
  2. Middle-class left liberals need to form alliances with the working-class and the poor, not the upper middle-class
  3. The new party should advocate for socialism

What follows is why this should be so.

Difference Between FDR Liberals and Neoliberals

Left liberal values

Left liberals are broadly for the following. They are pro-science as well as for investing in scientific research and development as well as investing in infrastructure. They are for the separation of church and state as well as for the use of reason in problem-solving, such as raising children through what is called “authoritative parenting”. They support the matriarchal state: universal health care, unemployment, pensions, food stamps and a minimum wage automatically raised to keep up with inflation. They expect the state to intervene in the economy to soften the hard edges of capitalism, following a Keynesian economic policy. They are committed to gradual change and a lessening of race and gender stratification. Left liberals support an expansion of unions. This left liberalism has been present in the United States for roughly 40 years, from the mid-1930s to the mid-1970s.  Since then, Democratic Party has slid further and further right to the point that their platform today is a center-right neoliberal party which embodies none of these values. The problem is the collective denial left liberals have in ignoring this fact.

Right-wing neoliberal values

Neoliberals are directly opposed to the matriarchal state. They support the economic policies of Milton Friedman and Friedrich Von Hayek with minimum state involvement in the economy.  Neoliberals have withdrawn funding from long-term science programs. They have presided over the rise of New Age thinking initiated by Marilyn Ferguson’s book The Aquarian Conspiracy. Neoliberals have become extreme relativists championing the rise of identity politics which began in the early 1970s. Neoliberals have lost hope and have failed to bring the principles of the Enlightenment forward. They have abandoned investment in profits made on manufacturing and instead make their profits on the defense industry, arming the entire world. Under their rein most of the remaining profit is invested in finance capital.

Neoliberals have presided over the destruction of unions over last fifty years.  They have stood by and watched the full-time, well paid secure working-class jobs disappear.  Work hours under neoliberalism have gone from 40 hours per week to at least 50 hours per week for those lucky enough to be employed full-time. In general, the standard of living has declined in the US so that the next generation can expect to make less than their parents. It’s no accident that credit cards became available to the working-class in the early 1970s, so workers didn’t have to directly face the fact that their standard of living had declined. The civil rights movement spoke to what minorities had in common with organized labor, which was low-cost housing and fair wages. Today we have individualist identity politics where being recognized for your identity along with using politically correct language is all that is asked for. In the 1960s, community college was free. In the last 50 years the cost of college education is so high that student debt appears to be debt for life.

Neoliberals have supported the explosion of the prison-industrial complex which has expanded many times over since the 60s despite the rate of crime going down. The police departments have been equipped with military weapons that make the equipment of police prior to the 1970s pale in comparison. They have presided over the growth of the insurance industry and the pharmaceutical companies which now have control over our physical and mental health. The official diagnostic manual was 50 pages in 1950. Today the same manual is well over 1000 pages. Today upper-middle-class parents are no longer authoritative but instead are practicing a form of “permissive parenting”, which easily results in spoiled, narcissistic children, with helicopter parents fretting endlessly over their little darling’s self-esteem. Please see Table A for a comparison.

Differences Between Middle Class and Upper Middle Class

Not everyone is middle-class

In the United States, most people think of themselves as middle-class. Last time I checked 80% of the working-class mistakenly thought they were middle-class. Why? Because in Yankeedom, it’s an embarrassment to be working-class. So too, upper-middle-class people, nervous about being seen as well-to-do, play down their wealth. Nevertheless, there are real parameters around what it means to be middle-class, as I’ll get to. But first the social class composition.

Social class composition

Based on the work of William Domhoff, in his books Who Rules America and The Powers That Be, the ruling-class and the upper-class together compose about 5% of the population. They live off stocks and bonds and don’t have to work. Their investments are principally in oil, mining, the military and banking. They have been characterized as “old money” and are mostly Republicans.

The upper-middle-class is about 10% of the population. They make most of their money off scientific innovations like computers, internet and electronics. They are called “new money” and are mostly Democrats. Upper-middle-class people are also doctors, lawyers, architects, senior managers, scientists and engineers, as well as media professionals such as news commentators, magazine and newspaper editors, college administrators and religious authorities.

The middle-class consists of about 25% of the population. Occupational examples include high school and grammar school teachers, registered nurses, librarians, corporate middle managers, self-employed artisans and tiny little mom-and-pop operations. The middle-class is at the bottom rung of the Democratic Party not well-represented at all.

The working-class is about 40% of the population and consists of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers. The skilled working-class include carpenters, welders and electricians, wait-staff and store clerks who are likely to vote Democrat. Their interests are not represented by the Democratic Party either. The semi-skilled are bus drivers or train operators and along with unskilled are less likely to vote. The last 10% consist of what Marx called the “lumpenproletariat” who live by their wits as prostitutes, hustlers, gamblers or those on welfare. These folks are not likely to vote either.

Income is not the most important determinant of social class: the nine dimensions of social class

When most Yankees try to understand social class, the first thing they think of is how much income a person has. But this is only one of the nine dimensions of social class, and not the most important one. Most of these dimensions are covered in the work of Marxist Erik Olin Wright as well as some of the followers of Max Weber. The first dimension of social class is technical, and this consists of three parts: a) the proportion of mental and physical work the job requires; b) the amount of independence or interdependence the kind of work involves; and c) the proportion of the work that is mechanical rote work versus creativity. So typically, a good upper-middle-class job will involve mental work, be independent from others and involve creativity. At the other end of the spectrum is unskilled working-class labor which predominantly involves physical labor and working with other people, while the work itself is repetitive. Other social classes have various combinations in between.

The second dimension of social class is political and economic authority relations. This consists of two sub-categories. The first is the degree of power the person has over resources, tools, goods and services. A capitalist has control over all these things. Workers usually have control over none of them, except that skilled workers might own their own tools. The second sub-category has to do with the proportion of order-giving and order-taking involved. The owner of a company gives orders and takes no orders. His workers take orders and don’t give orders. Middle-class people in corporations may give orders to workers but must take orders from senior management. This category is simply – who gets to boss around who and under what conditions.

The third dimension of social class is mobility. How easy is it to move up or down the class hierarchy both within one’s lifetime or across generations? The fourth dimension of social class is resources. Most people think of resources in terms of income. But wealth also includes assets such as inheritance, real estate, stocks, bonds and property. Sometimes upper-class people may work only part time, but it would be deceptive to make sense of their class position by some part-time job when they have an inheritance.

The fifth dimension of social class is education. This consists of the number of years of school completed as well as the quality of the school attended. The sixth dimension of social class is status. This is the degree of prestige in which one’s occupation is held by others. One reason why income is unstable as an indicator of social class is that some workers can make a good deal of money, such as unionized garbage collectors, but have low status. Conversely, an adjunct college instructor can have high status among the Yankee population but make significantly less money than a garbage collector.

The seventh dimension of social class is lifestyle and consumption patterns. This has four sub-categories. The first is health – birth and death rates. As many of you know, working-class people die on average seven years younger than people in the middle and upper-middle-classes. The second sub-category is how people dress, their speech patterns, body mannerisms and manners. The third sub-category is their recreational habits – whether they ski, play baseball or go bowling. The last sub-category is their religious beliefs. Religions are class divided. In the case of the protestants, there are the Unitarians, Episcopalians and Presbyterians near the top and Baptists and fundamentalists at the bottom.

The eighth dimensions of social class is the degree of awareness people have of their social class. Generally, the upper class and the ruling class are extremely class conscious and are very fussy about who is allowed into their circles. The upper-middle-class and the middle-class tend to be less class conscious. In countries other than the United States, the working-class is very class conscious. But here in Yankeedom, workers see themselves as “temporarily indisposed millionaires”. The last social dimension of class is the ability to take collective action. Capitalists at the end of World War II and soon thereafter organized a big campaign to win back the allegiance of workers. The ruling class has exclusive clubs in which they organize class strategy. The World Economic Forum and the Bilderberg group are examples. At the other end of the spectrum, when workers join unions or strike, they are showing class consciousness. No social class fits neatly into each dimension. There are what Wright calls “contradictory class locations” where a person is caught between two classes either between generations or within their lifetime.

Why does class count?

Why have I gone over the dimensions of social class in such detail? One reason is to show that upper middle-class people and middle-class people are not interchangeable. They vary in the technical division of labor, authority relations, class mobility, resources, education, status, lifestyle, degree of class consciousness and their willingness to take collective action. They also differ in their attitudes towards the meaning of work, as well as in their attitudes towards time and eating habits. If we want to suggest that the middle-class should break its alliance with the upper middle-class and get out of the Democratic Party, we have to expand and deepen their differences as I am starting to demonstrate.

Summary: two reasons why middle-class left liberal should get out the Democratic Party

Summarizing, the first thing we needed to do is to establish that the Democratic Party is a center-right neoliberal party which has next to nothing to do with being left-liberal. This is reason A to get out of the Democratic Party. The second reason is that the Democratic Party serves the interests of the upper-middle-class not the middle-class. The most obvious indicator of why the middle-class should no longer align themselves with the upper-middle-class is to understand what has happened since the crash of 2008. Both Thomas Piketty and Richard Wolff argue that the “economic recovery” was very class specific. The rulers, the upper class and the upper middle-class have done considerably better in that “recovery”. All other social classes, including the middle-class, have done worse. The middle-class, economically and in other dimensions, is far closer to the working-class than it has ever been. Reason B to get out of the Democratic Party.

But can these two classes really get along? There is a built-in tension and discomfort about doing mental work and physical work; there are differences in the degree of status in the two classes’ occupations.  If we want to move middle-class people and working-class people closer together, we have to understand their commonalities and where the tension points are in their differences.

Similarities and Differences Between Middle Class and Working Class People

Similarities

The biggest similarity between the two classes is a decline in the standard of living. This includes income, work stability, increase in hours worked and lack of benefits. Another commonality is sports. Working-class people and middle-class people can unite around being fans of baseball, football and basketball professional teams. In terms of music, rock or country rock might bring these two classes together. Another commonality is that both classes have what sociologists have defined as achieved status. Unlike the upper classes, they usually do not come into life with an inheritance. Lastly, both classes see hard work as a virtue.

Differences

One of the major differences between these two classes is that middle-class people make their living primarily by doing mental and/or supervisory work. Working-class people make their living primarily with their hands and their bodies. A second major obstacle to overcome is that middle-class jobs usually have higher status. The third difference is that middle-class people often give orders to working-class people, but the reverse is not the case. This can lead to jealousy and resentment among working-class people. Middle-class people are very individualistic and not likely to organize as a class. There is likely to be tension between the classes when the working-class agitates to start a union or take strike action. There are also differences between the classes around the meaning of work. For working-class people, the meaning of work is less important than the money and material benefits. Some middle-class people might trade off a higher paying job for work that seems socially redeeming to them.

In terms of resources middle-class people today are likely to own their own home and have stocks and bonds. Working-class people’s assets are usually a car and possibly a home. Mostly they do not own stocks. Whatever savings account they have, that is it. There are also differences in their health conditions. Working-class people are likely to have eating, drinking and smoking problems and middle-class people are healthier. Working-class people are more likely to go to gambling casinos and play the lottery. Middle-class people see that as a waste of time and money.

Another tension point is education. Usually, middle-class people will have a bachelor’s or master’s degree, while working-class people will have no degree or an associate degree at best. Middle-class people will dress, speak and have manners that will be different from the working-class, and this will produce class tensions. Middle-class and working-class people will attend different religious denominations. Working-class religious services invite submission, confessions of being a sinner as well as altered states of consciousness like speaking in tongues, singing and dancing in the church aisles. In middle-class religions, there is less pressure to make you feel like you are a sinner. At the same time, sermons are designed to appeal to what is reasonable rather than to force you to have a revelatory experience which alters one’s state of consciousness.

Middle Class People Meet Socialists

Surely you are kidding

Let’s suppose middle-class left liberals have enough doubts about the Democratic Party because they are no longer New Deal liberals, and they’re starting to see that the party no longer looks out for middle-class interests. Let’s assume that economic, political and ecological disasters will continue to plague capitalism, and somehow a third party – a mass party – has emerged founded on socialism and is getting up a head of steam. This party has some working-class support as well as some union support. What would it take for middle-class left liberals to join?

Fears Middle-class Liberals Have About Socialists

Dictatorship and one-party rule

In its propaganda war with socialism, capitalists inevitably point out some of what it perceives to be the dictatorial tendencies of communism – in Russia, China and Cuba – as the archetypal example of socialism. What it does not do is study the conditions under which one-party rule occurred and what the authorities were up against. I am not going to get into pros and cons of this here because this kind of socialism – whether Stalinist or Maoist – is only one type of socialism. There are six types of socialism. Starting from the right and moving leftward there are social democrats and then three kinds of Leninists – Maoists, Stalinists and Trotskyists. Continuing leftward, there are left communists or council communists and the anarchists. In my efforts to convince middle-class liberals of the feasibility of socialism I will address as much as I can what most or all of these types are in agreement on. For now, let’s just say that dictatorial rule is not a foundational principle of socialism, even for the Stalinist and Maoist parties that have been called dictatorial by capitalists.

Furthermore, I think it is ludicrous for members of the Democratic Party to complain about the one-party rule of socialists when in Yankeedom there are only two parties. The Democratic Party is hardly democratic when it only serves the interests of the about 10% of the population (Republicans serve the ruling and upper classes) and leaves over 85% with no representation at all. The party I call the “Republicrats”, representing 15% of the population, is one party, the party of capital.

Confusion of personal property with social property

We socialists have a running joke on our Facebook posts, mostly in reaction to over-the-top conservatives who think we want to abolish personal property. We say “yes indeed, we are coming for your tooth brush.” That perceived threat is accompanied by imagining that socialists are all having group sex. But seriously, when we socialists say we want to abolish private property we only mean social property. We want to abolish capitalist control over water, food, energy systems, tools, all the necessities that people need to live. We don’t believe resources that everyone needs in order to live should be privately owned. On the other hand, personal property will remain with the individual as it would under capitalism.

Discouragement of innovation

Capitalism has a very shallow and narrow understanding of human nature. Capitalists imagine that people are lazy at heart and unless the carrot is held in front of people – the prospect of being a millionaire – they will do nothing. Further, they look at the types of “leisure” activities a working-class person enjoys after another 50-hour work week and take those as representing what human nature is really like. For example, on Friday night the worker wants to play cards. On Saturday he watches a ball game and have a few beers and on Sunday he sleeps in. For the capitalist this is lazy. What the capitalist thinks is that if workers did not have to work, then playing cards, watching football, drinking, getting laid and sleeping is all he would ever do. What the capitalist doesn’t understand is that the entire weekend is not leisure at all. Its recovery from the week and preparation for the new week.

Under conditions of socialist work, alienation would be minor – and I am being conservative here. The natural collective creativity on the job will arise. People will work less, perhaps 30 hours a week at first. Because workers will control the workplaces as well as decide what to produce, how to produce it, how much they should work and how they will be compensated, work will be a joy, not a curse as under capitalism. There will be plenty of room for innovation, in fact, much more than under capitalism where most workers are imprisoned in wage labor and told not to be curious and not have their own ideas about how things should be run.

All this collective creativity gives the lie to the ridiculous capitalist notion that people want socialism because they want “free stuff” with no contribution. All socialist plans have a budget and decisions have to be made about what and how the budget will be spent. No one will “get out of working”. What the capitalist cannot imagine is that under socialism people will want to work. The idea of not working would be painful – not liberating.

Equality of poverty

In its heyday, between the 1930s and the 1970s, the Swedish Social Democratic Labor Party was a socialist society which produced great material wealth. The socialist countries that have been showcased by capitalists as poor – the Soviet Union, China and Cuba – were only poor during certain times of their existence. What capitalists fail to inform us of is that before the socialist revolutions, as Michael Parenti points out, those countries were even more poor. What material wealth does exist in capitalist societies has taken hundreds of years to build up. In China today, absolute poverty was eradicated within 40 years.

There will be far more innovation than existed under capitalism because under socialism the workplaces will be controlled by the workers and workers’ activities will be guided by an overall plan. To cite one instance, before Yugoslavia was destroyed by capitalists, Yugoslavian productivity under worker self-management was higher than in any capitalist country. The same was true during the Spanish Revolution under worker self-management in both industry and in agriculture.

People are naturally greedy

Cross-cultural research on happiness has found that there is a direct correlation between money and happiness when people move from poverty to a middle-class life. However, the movement from middle-class to upper-middle-class and beyond is no longer correlated to happiness. In other words, people who are upper class or upper-middle-class are not any more likely to be happy than are middle-class people. This gives the lie to the capitalist notion that people are greedy and that everyone secretly wants to be a millionaire. What is more likely is that people want to be middle-class. They want basics in material security. After that they want other things; creativity on the job, to be able to contribute to society and to be recognized for their work, to mention only a few things.

Socialists will want to abolish religion

I admit that the state socialist attempt to decree the abolition of religion was a big mistake. I also think that doing so was contrary to the principles of materialism Marxists aspire to. While I stand firm in the ontological belief that there are no gods or god, at the same time I understand the degree to which people wish to hold on to religion as an expression of their alienation of social life. As generations pass and prosperous ways of life become normalized, I predict three things will happen. First, more people will become atheists. Secondly, those who continue to believe in religion will notice that the nature of the gods, or god, will change. The gods or god will blend more with the nature we know because social life will be more likely to begin to resemble heaven on earth. Third, the fundamentalist religions that plague many working-class people will disappear because the working-class will no longer consider themselves sinners or need fire and brimstone to make things right.   

Commonalities Between Middle-Class Left Liberals and Socialists

Need for a mass party

We socialists think you’ll agree with us that we badly need a mass party that can speak to the needs of the 25% of us who are middle-class and the 40% percent of us who are working-class. This party will develop a program and a step-by-step plan for implementation of the plan over the next 5, 10 and 15 years. It will be a dues-paying party and we will implement methods for getting input into what the plan will be. The issues will be prioritized, and everyone will have a say in carrying out the plan. Once the plan is set, people will be able to sign up for tasks they agree to carry out over the course of weeks and months. In addition to a thirty-hour work week, approximately five hours per week will be devoted to this “political” work.

Massive support for Unions

We socialists know that you left liberals have supported unions from the 1930s to the early 1970s. However, we also know that it was under liberal presidents that the best organizers of unions, the communists and the socialists, were drummed out of unions in the 1950s. This limited the vision of unions as they turned into “business unions”. We also think you should be very upset with the neoliberals in the Democratic Party who have not supported unions for the last 50 years, causing union representation in Yankeedom to be now less than 10%. We hold neoliberals directly responsible for the fact that wages, working conditions and job security are pretty much last in the industrial capitalist societies. The vision of unions needs to be built back up to the ways of the Industrial Workers of the World who saw unions as workshops for how to run a society, not merely a way to sustain and improve everyday working conditions.

Society can be engineered

Like you, we socialists agree with the great project of the Enlightenment that a better society can be engineered by its members. Unlike conservatives, we do not accept that social organizations should be ruled by kings, aristocrats, priests or any traditional authorities. Neither do we think society is some kind of reform school in preparation for the next life. We also don’t think society is best governed by the automatic preservation of traditional institutions that have been here the longest. Like you, we agree in the notion of progress.

The value of science and technology in producing a society of abundance

Like you we are very disappointed and angry that capitalists have chosen to invest their profits in warfare and in finance capital rather than in scientific research that could make our lives better. We also think you should blame the neoliberals for allowing this to happen over the course of the last 50 years. As socialists we have always felt that the scientific method is the best way to know things and that science is a crucial ingredient in Marx’s call to “develop the productive forces”. For us, the creation of socialism was never any kind of sacrifice or doing with less. Nor are we unrealistic about human nature. We fully understand that the foundation of socialism has to be the production of more than enough wealth to go around. With abundance in place, there is no motivation for stealing or wanting what others have.

The value of the state overview

We socialists are in complete agreement with the value you hold about the importance of the functions of the matriarchically state. We also think it is important that the matriarchal state take over the realm of overall planning. This does not mean that all social production and distribution is centrally planned with no feedback from the local and regional levels. We see the relationship between the three in a dialectical manner. The local and regional levels feed up to the state level what products and services are needed. The state incorporates our feedback but then makes adjustments based on the fact that at the local and regional level we cannot see the whole. Once the state produces an over-all plan, that is then fed down to the local and regional levels. It will no doubt take a number of times for there to be a smooth “cybernetic” rhythm established.

Micro-level – the value of cooperative learning and authoritative parenting

We socialists are well aware that you middle-class left liberals have always supported public schools. Some of the more visionary of you might have had the money to send your children to a Montessori school. Some of you might have heard the name Lev Vygotsky and associated him with cooperative learning, which is used in Montessori education. What you probably were never told was that Vygotsky was a communist and he and his followers, Alexander Luria and Aleksei N Leontiev, founded a whole school of psychology, the “socio-historical school of psychology”. They developed a theory of cooperative learning that has been applied not only in school settings but in the design of social intelligence tests, the development of theories of cognitive development and in working with the deaf. Vygotsky’s work could be massively applied to the fields of social psychology, and possibly to therapy, as one group in New York City is currently doing.

Lastly, we admire the way that many of you have raised your children using authoritative child-rearing methods. You have avoided both extremes in child rearing. On the one hand are the authoritarian methods of conservative child rearing which raises children who are repressed, frightened and lack curiosity. On the other hand, it is the permissive parenting of upper-middle-class neoliberal parents that has turned out a generation of narcissistic, entitled, ungrateful brats who are the product of neoliberal schooling where the focus was on raising self-esteem in every school program. We think the authoritative (as opposed to authoritarian) method with its flexible structure, welcoming of dialogue, appeal to reason, rather than emotion is the best way to raise children. We are on the same page with you.

Deeper Differences between Middle-Class Left Liberals and Socialists

Commitment to an antiwar international policy

We socialists have always been against wars because we know they are usually turf wars between capitalists about resources and that it is the workers and the poor people who do the fighting, not the capitalists. As far as wars go, we know that your class has supported the Cold War and the war in Vietnam. Beyond the 1970s you seem to have treated these wars with less enthusiasm except for perhaps, the war on Iraq. As it stands now, the capitalists in Yankeedom not only make a fortune in military warfare to “protect our borders” but they also arm the entire world. If counties decided to end their wars the capitalists here would be destitute. These wars need to end, not just because of the senseless deaths at home and abroad, but for pragmatic reasons. All this money could go into the trillions of dollars’ worth of infrastructural work that is left undone. Suppose the military was employed on these infrastructural projects. Suppose the military was employed to build low-cost housing in every city. Living in a society of abundance requires the reinvestment in the military from wars abroad to infrastructure and natural disaster relief at home.

Anti-imperialist international policy

We socialists are also against imperialist wars where capitalists invade other countries to steal their political or economic resources, land and labor to make a profit. This can be most blatantly seen in Africa. Yankeedom also continues its imperialist ventures in Latin America, regularly attempting to overthrow governments there. Why? For the simple reason that freely elected governments (socialist or not) may have the nerve to set their own economic policy, which might not necessarily be friendly to transnational corporations.

Yankee capitalists want to rule the world and they don’t want any competition.

China, Russia and Iran refuse to tow the line and have formed an alliance. The Chinese represent the best hope of the world now. Why are they such a threat to the United States? Because they are making a profit through building infrastructures, not just in China but in other parts of the world. China, Russia and Iran have also withdrawn from the US dollar as a use of international currency, which costs the western banks in significant loss of profits. Yankee capitalists are slitting their own throats, and ours as well, by acting like big-shot imperialists fifty years after their time has passed and their own territory is falling apart. As middle-class people we think you can see that nothing good can come from this and we need to rebuild our own society.

Dismantling the Deep State

Unfortunately, most middle-class people don’t know any more about the FBI and the CIA and what these organizations do to promote themselves, including what is on television and in movies. The FBI has upended or ruined the lives of socialists for decades. Their role in undermining the New Left has been documented in David Cunningham’s book There’s Something Happening Here. The CIA is in a class by itself, the world’s most powerful terrorist organization. I will limit myself to three books: The Mighty Wurlitzer by Hugh Wilford; The Cultural Cold War by Frances Stoner Saunders and The Devil’s Chessboard by David Talbot. Funding for these organization should be ended, and the sooner the better.

 Class Dismissed, Where Left Liberals Missed the Boat

For socialists of any stripe, social class has been the foundation for understanding capitalism. The capitalist class makes its profits by exploiting the working-class. As Marx points out, workers produce all the wealth, but they are given only about 40% in the form of wages (the first four hours of their labor) which allows them to support themselves. But the worker works another 6 hours. Who gets the value from that? The employer. The employer uses the rest of the surplus value produced by the worker to pay the middle-class managers, pay landlords for the use of plant and set aside funds to pay the state in taxes. They claim the remainder of the surplus as profit.  Middle-class people have stood structurally between the working-class and the capitalists, giving orders to workers, taking orders from capitalists. There are other social classes as I’ve discussed earlier but the major dynamic is between the capitalist and the worker.

Middle-class people, like most other classes, do not talk about this because class is about political and economic power between groups. It is uncomfortable and middle-class people among others have been afraid to discuss this. Why? Because they feel guilty, that maybe it is their fault they have a better life? Maybe they owe the workers something? Middle-class people need to get over this, because the fact is, you are sliding south, in the same direction as the working-class. In fact, you now have more in common with working-class people than upper middle-class people.

Race relations: Social Movements vs Individualist Identity Politics

Strange as it may seem, middle-class people have been more comfortable talking about race than class. After all, many middle-class people prided themselves as left liberals by supporting the civil rights movement. This was a social movement in which racial minorities joined together to fix objective conditions such as higher pay, better housing, legal rights. I suspect most of you did not know that Martin Luther King, a paradigm of middle-class respectability, was a socialist.

However, since the mid 1970s, but especially from the 1990s on, race relations have turned from a social movement into something different. Identity politics is a psychological spin-off from the civil rights movement with a very different agenda. In the hands of upper middle-class, neoliberals of all colors, including lawyers and university professors, identity politics has been used to win political seats in the Democratic Party. They do this by focusing on the rights of individuals to recognition, the right to be called a certain pronoun and rights to declare being offended by this or that innuendo. Identity politics has crippled the ability of working-class and middle-class people to form alliances by dragging meetings through competitive battles as to who is more offended than whom. When an organization as corrupt as the ruling class Democratic Party starts babbling about “white privilege” it’s time to get off that sinking ship. The mess that race relations are today is made worse by the upper middle-class neoliberals seizing on identity politics. Here is yet another reason to dump the Democratic Party and any alliance with the upper middle-class. A terrific short book that lays out the limitations of identity politics is Mistaken Identity by Asad Haider.

Democracy is economic and participatory more than political representation

Middle-class left liberals in the 20th century have thought of democracy as synonymous with voting. Democracy was having the right to vote for one of the two major parties. For socialists this is a sham. Both parties are ruling class parties and workers have nothing to say about what candidates are running and what they will do after the election. For us, democracy is economic. We think it is ridiculous to imagine we live in a democracy when we go to work to be bossed around from beginning to the end of the day by the employer. For us, democracy begins and ends in the workplace. Workers should have a say in what is produced, how it is produced, where it is distributed, how long we work and how we are compensated. In addition, within socialism democracy is also present by its involvement in city planning. This includes participatory planning councils at the local level, participating in setting agendas and deciding how city revenue should be spent. Under socialism, political parties will still have their place, but they will operate under direct democracy, not representational democracy.

The future of capitalism

All socialists are against capitalism except for some right-wing social democrats who believe in a mixed economy. For us, capitalism is a system plagued by crises and inherently unstable. Various Marxist crisis theorists have developed theories about how and why capitalism will end. Even non-Marxist political economists have theories about how it will end. Please see my article “Name Me One Capitalist Country That Works: A Thirty Year Reckoning” for more sources. Where I think we can agree is that capitalist profits should not be made on wars, or on fictitious capital. It is the neoliberals, not you, who have made profits on fictitious capital and wars over the past 50 years. Rather, capitalist profits should be made on the production of goods and services. We still think that eventually capitalism will fail even if it only produces goods and services, but we can’t convince you of that until we are further down the road.

What is the place of competitive markets? Some of you might feel that having markets is a better mechanism for quickly finding out what people need and how those goods and services have been delivered. As Michael Parenti writes in Black Shirts and Reds, the central planning mechanisms in the USSR were no bargain. At the same time, we know that during the Spanish Revolution, the workers and peasants self-organized in industry and on farms for 3 years, covering millions of people and had better production records than the Spanish government had before the revolution. So, our choices are more than choosing between the state and the market. In the new society perhaps there might be a minor place for markets instead of state planning or worker planning, but the markets should never be among the major players. We can do better than markets.

• Published first in Socialist Planning Beyond Capitalism

The post Why Middle-Class Left Liberals Should Dump the Democratic Party: Finding Common Ground with Socialists first appeared on Dissident Voice.

American Exceptionalism: Private Wealth and Public Squalor

A December 2017 statement from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights notes that, while the US manages to spend “more [money] on national defence than China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, United Kingdom, India, France, and Japan combined”, US infant mortality rates were, as of 2013, “the highest in the developed world”.

The Special Rapporteur provides a barrage of other details from his own visit to the US, during which he was able to observe the country’s “bid to become the most unequal society in the world” – with some 40 million people living in poverty – as well as assess “soaring death rates and family and community destruction wrought by prescription and other drug addiction”.

Capitalism, it seems, is a deadly business indeed.

Belen Fernandez

A demonstrator from the Occupy Wall Street campaign seen with a dollar taped over his mouth as he stands near the financial district of New York September 30, 2011 [File: Lucas Jackson/Reuters]

A demonstrator from the Occupy Wall Street campaign seen with a dollar taped over his mouth as he stands near the financial district of New York September 30, 2011.  (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

How the Cookie Crumbles

She’s 80, comes from Ayr, Scotland, lives in a sea town along the Oregon Coast. She is caretaker for her 55-year-old nephew. Her heart-failed husband, liver shot through, dialysis weekly, is another of her charges.

Imagine, she and her family ran a small chain of shops — clocks, another locksmith, another fish and chips. That was in Bonnie Scotland.

Her sister married a bloke in the US Air Force, and she shipped out with him. Pregnant. Child Drew, early on, in Tucson at Davis Monthan Air Force Base, he was diagnosed with Downs Syndrome. Life for her changed, and then her sister promised if anything happened to this sister, Aunt Regina would take care of Drew. That was a long long time ago.

Regina’s sister and her sister’s husband immolated in a crash coming back from El Paso. Boy Drew left with a younger sister — the boy age 20, sis 16.

For 35 years, our Regina and her Bob raised the boy. Drew is now 55, and part of my job is to support him in his job at a grocery store. He’s been there more than 15 years, and he makes $12.01 an hour.

Forget that economic injustice for a moment. Listen to how the crumbling cookie goes in predatory capitalism — Regina has not been back to the old country in 20 years. She has two knees that are shot. She needs two replacements, but she is the caretaker for the chronically-sick husband. Drew lives with them, getting his two-times a week work at the grocery store as a bagger.

He’s got the infectious personality, and he also has some “issues” glomming onto female staff. Regina was not told that adults with Downs Syndrome many times have lost the synoptic connections tied to urgency for urination and defecation.

Sweet drinks he gulps down, like a lost man in the Sahara. He scarfs down or wolfs down his food.

Like anyone, Drew wants to be in a relationship, married, on some piece of property with a horse, dogs and big garden. He works eight hours a week, and receives under $800 in social security payments.

The state pays Aunt Regina for his care. Her biggest worry is Drew losing his job because of the bathroom accidents or the sexual harassment.

Regina is kind but firm, and her bedside manner isn’t from the latest holistic and enlightened training around people who live with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“I tell Drew, that if he messes up one more time, the grocery store will fire him. The job is more than pocket change for him. He gets out, has responsibilities, is growing some from the integrated employment, and, mind you this is a big AND, I get him out of the house for a few hours a week so I can gain some sense of sanity. I don’t know if he has to be put into a state institution.”

Luck of the draw, luck of the gene expression, luck of the accidental car mortalities, luck luck luck.

That’s the way the cookie crumbles, and in capitalism, we are not judged by how we treat our aged, infirm, vulnerable, youth, sick, disabled, poor. The worse we treat “them,” the more “they” have to struggle, the more daily fear “they” have of failing, faltering, flipping out mentally, the more successful those Capitalists and those Investors and those Finance Wizards and those Upper Economic Class are!

Redistribution of wealth for “them” is taking every last penny from “them,” us. Working people at $12.01 an hour after 15 years in a national/international chain.

A mentality that posits that “they” meant to do that, defecate in their pants, or, oh, “they” know better, and, oh, “they” are gaming the system and pulling the wool over your bleeding heart social services worker heads.

Heartless in a Time of Plague   

Our Scottish Regina is worried about what will happen to Drew once she kicks the bucket, or when she is no longer physically capable of carrying on and running a household with a very demanding Drew and a very failing Bob, her 86-year-old husband.

We talk about the old country’s National Health Service. We talk about the failures of a society that has been ripped open time and time again by the purulent investors — another word for making money anyway they can.

Gutting medical care, gutting entitlement programs, gutting progressive taxation, gutting the measures for health and safety for and by the public. Where oh where will Drew go once his aunt and uncle pass on?

Think of every dollar and penny pinched, and then think of how much we the taxpayer shell out for every nanosecond of the crimes of corporations eating at the belly of communities, and every penny taken in light speed for everything run by the imposters, the misanthropes.

Every million$ here, every billion$ there. Grifters and grabbers. How much did the first Billionaire’s “impeachment” cost us? How much does an Alex Jones or Tom Brady or Michelle Obama get paid for their insipid bolstering of their self-referential mythology? Each speech? Each rot gut book penned?

Every rivet sunk into a Hellfire missile, every pound of fuel used in US Military Terrorism Toys, every nanosecond million made through illegal and unethical investing through algorithm?

That Moon shot by India, or that Mars rover by Japan, or Israel gunning for more surveillance. How much is every human lifetime worth, if we are lumped together in that big pile of “other” and “non-human”?

That heartless cookie crumbling capitalism is rotten to the core. The joke is, though, by the filthy rich, the Art of War Friedman’s and Bezos and all the Google middling’s and upper crust, that if all the billions were taken from the filthy rich, and dumped into the majority on planet earth — the poor, the uneducated, the misbegotten, the terminal, the dysfunctional, the Jerry Springer protagonists and antagonists, in five years all that and more would be back in the hands of the Star Chamber 1,000 or 2,000 Multi-Billionaires.

“We’d just get it all back, because the masses are inherently stupid, know nothing about the value of a dollar, would buy all the junk and shit and whoring dreams we create to sell. We’d have all that so-called ‘redistributed’ wealth back in our hands.”

That myth is coupled with another one, where the rich and the rest of us, having collectively, as much as the 1,000 or millionth richest? Christian Parenti lays it out simply and clearly here:

The 85 richest in the world probably include the four members of the Walton family (owners of Wal-Mart, among the top ten superrich in the USA) who together are worth over $100 billion. Rich families like the DuPonts have controlling interests in giant corporations like General Motors, Coca-Cola, and United Brands. They own about forty manorial estates and private museums in Delaware alone and have set up 31 tax-exempt foundations. The superrich in America and in many other countries find ways, legal and illegal, to shelter much of their wealth in secret accounts. We don’t really know how very rich the very rich really are.

Regarding the poorest portion of the world population—whom I would call the valiant, struggling “better half”—what mass configuration of wealth could we possibly be talking about? The aggregate wealth possessed by the 85 super-richest individuals, and the aggregate wealth owned by the world’s 3.5 billion poorest, are of different dimensions and different natures. Can we really compare private jets, mansions, landed estates, super luxury vacation retreats, luxury apartments, luxury condos, and luxury cars, not to mention hundreds of billions of dollars in equities, bonds, commercial properties, art works, antiques, etc.—can we really compare all that enormous wealth against some millions of used cars, used furniture, and used television sets, many of which are ready to break down? Of what resale value if any, are such minor durable-use commodities? especially in communities of high unemployment, dismal health and housing conditions, no running water, no decent sanitation facilities, etc. We don’t really know how poor the very poor really are.

85 Billionaires and the Better Half by Michael Parenti

Ways of Thinking - Feudalism is very much alive

Image by Judite B

The books and discourse and deep discussions and analyses have already been posited and published, and yet, we are in 2021, and the school system, the media system, the propaganda machines of government-military-resource extraction-big ag/med/pharma/AI/finance continue to cobble truth, censor the reality of the penury system that is consumer-corporate-criminal-corrupt Capitalism.

Here, a hodgepodge of readings ramifying the thesis in this essay of mine —

Chris Hedges and Richard Wolff: Capitalism Does Not Work for the Majority of the People

Make No Mistake: The Rule Of The Rich Has Been A Deadly Epoch For Humanity

Michael Parenti: Does Capitalism Work? (2002)

The 1% Pathology and the Myth of Capitalism

Capitalism: The Systematic Poverty and Exploitation of Human Beings by Finian Cunningham

Michael Parenti: These Countries Are Not Underdeveloped, They Are Overexploited (1986)

Luxury Eco-Communism: A Wonderful World is Possible

The Growing Disparity In Living Conditions and Its Consequences by Rainer Shea

Covid-19 and the Health Crisis in Latin America by Yanis Iqbal

The Start Of The Great Meltdown For Industrial Civilization by Rainer Shea

MFTN: Poverty Will Kill More Of Us Than Terrorism

The Rich Are Only Rich If We Let Them Be by Dariel Garner

Mystery: How Wealth Creates Poverty in the World by Michael Parenti

The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger + How Economic Inequality Harms Societies

Wealth Belongs To All Of Us – Not Just To The Rich by Dariel Garner

We Are So Poor Because They Are So Rich by Dariel Garner

Here are the source links — X and Y

Railroaded into this Mess 

It all comes back to the rackets — war, banking, big ag, law, prisons, military, computing, finance, insuring, retail, lending, investing, for-profit medicine, education, utilities.

The rackets of putting garnishments on all of our wages. The punishment rackets of fines, foreclosures, levies, taxes, fees, surcharges, add-ons, user fees, disposal fees, tolls, late fees, interest fees, penalties, wage attachments, wage theft, any-government-revenue/policing/judicial entity having the legal right to crack into any savings or checking or real estate holding they want to….And steal!

Imagine that freedom, uh? My Drew or my Don, they work for pittances, and they have their measly wages garnished if they make too much above the allowable social security benefit level. Imagine all of the flimflam, all those middle and peripheral and shadowy and underhanded people and agencies each taking a gram of flesh until that human life has been pecked away.

Stuck in a closet somewhere. Huddled around a TV, surrounded by the deadly products of a food industry responsible for billions dead. Food (sic) more deadly than cancer sticks, AKA cigarettes.

Think hard how those children-who-come-to-me-as-adults as their social services manager, wanting me to help them find jobs in a dog-eat-dog culture, where the cookie isn’t just crumbling, but rather smashed into smithereens by the capitalists. All those poisons in food, all the polluting, toxin-laced, dam-building, river-tainting, air-staining processes that bring us better living with plastics-fastfood-shelf lives of a decade. Better living through chemistry, pharmaceutics, chronic illness, disease management, pain regulating.

Then, we cannot discuss the possibilities of a society with more and more allergies, more and more chronic illnesses, more and more learning disabilities, more and more developmental disabilities, more and more intellectual disabilities, more and more trauma and PTSD and generalized anxiety and physiological premature weathering.

And poverty does more than just kills. Poverty eats at the soul, drives people to unsafe harbors like consumerism, disposability, obsessions, addictions, inattentiveness, collective Stockholm Syndrome, perversions, empty calories-entertainment-thinking.

There are numbers just for one aspect of our consumer-retail-exploitative societies competing in a trans-national gallery of dirty capitalism — 4.2 million premature deaths annually? Five million? More? Exposure to air pollution caused over 7.0 million deaths and 103.1 million disability-adjusted life years lost in one year.

Attributed to dirty (polluted) air. Not dirty water. Not dirty food. Not dirty drugs. Not smoking. Not boozing. Not war.

The study uses existing data from IHME on global burden of diseases (Mortality and Disability Adjusted Life Years) related to air pollution such as Trachea, Bronchus and Lung cancer, COPD, Ischemic heart disease and Stroke. This study shows that air pollution is one of the major environmental risk factors for the global burden of disease in 1990-2015 and has remained relatively stable for the past 25 years. By region, the largest burden of disease related to air pollution is found in Western Pacific and South-East Asia, reflecting the heavy industry and air pollution hotspots within the developing nations of these regions. Moreover, the rates of Disability Adjusted Life Years increased because of increase in pollution, especially in South-East Asia region, African region, and Eastern Mediterranean region where populations are both growing and ageing.

— Source

I’ve written about this for years — how there is so much disconnect in Criminal Capitalism, where the marketing ploys and psychological tricks force babies and then toddlers and then kindergarteners and then grade schoolers and then more and more millions of growing minds to adapt to counterintuitive thinking, to accept death, slow or otherwise, as part of the social contract. Dog-eat-dog, predation, big fish/small pond, and the roots of America after decimating Turtle Island, one smoke and mirror show after another snake oil sales pitch.

Which sane or humane person would accept a PayDay loan scam? Which humane person would accept forced arbitration clauses? Which caring human would not endorse clean, well-run, full coverage public transportation? Which caring mother would not demand prenatal care, and medicine and clinics on demand? Where is the logic of old men and old women (look at the senate, the congress, the administration) running the lives of the unborn, newborn and youth into the ground.

Even the thirty-somethings in Brooks Brothers suits look, sound, smell, and espouse OLD. I don’t mean old and wise, or elder thinkers, or experienced and well traveled. I mean old in decayed.

If the world is saved, it will be saved by people with changed minds, people with a new vision. It will not be saved by people with old minds and new programs. It will not be saved by people with the old vision but a new program.

The Takers accumulate knowledge about what works well for things. The Leavers accumulate knowledge about what works well for people.

— Daniel Quinn, Ishmael

These flimflam artists, these liars and cheaters and pontificators and media monsters, they are antithetical to a good governance, good society, good people.

They not only do not know the stories of Drew and his Aunt Regina and Uncle Bob, but they have no forward-thinking solutions to the aging old foster parents and the still healthy middle-aged Drew. With all his beauty. With all his kindness. With all his adept knowledge of how to get on, get along, get his day going. Drew, born in the cookie crumbles crap shoot. Regina, who was on her way back to the UK, Scotland, when she answered the call to take care of Drew and his sister.

This story is repeated a million times a month, worldwide. The penalty for living, for being human, for being not one of them (rich, powerful, greed-wielding) and for stopping their lives to do the right thing.

You wake up one day and believe you have a worthy life. You wake up and take account of what good you have done. You wake up and look in the mirror and wonder what it is you actually dreamt, thought, spoke, cared for, read, built, protected, grew, sheltered, did, held sacred, envisioned, husbanded, parented, fostered, ate, drank, created.

Did any of that living have purpose, or some connection to the humanity that is the real culture of Homo Sapiens, mother culture?

Daily, I have a million intersections with culture and cultures — Big D for deaf or small d for disabled? Brain-injured at birth, or hit by a truck at age 11. Traumatic Brain Injury from an early childhood beating, or massive psychological trauma from a rape at age 20. Born with any number of diagnosed maladies, or any expression of “being born on the autism spectrum.” Fragile X or fetal alcohol affective disorder. Or Downs Syndrome.

The luck of the draw is one enormous field of chance, and the outcomes are not just tied to the abilities — emotional, spiritual, economic, personal — of those you call family, but how the society at large and each community gauge the value of life, the value placed on those whose luck of the draw came up short in some areas.

But the world is fragile, and those on some neuro typical scale and those atypically neuro, can we build our culture together, and heal and protect and shelter and engender and facilitate and teach and learn from?

There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with people. Given a story to enact that puts them in accord with the world, they will live in accord with the world. But given a story to enact that puts them at odds with the world, as yours does, they will live at odds with the world. Given a story to enact in which they are the lords of the world, they will ACT like lords of the world. And, given a story to enact in which the world is a foe to be conquered, they will conquer it like a foe, and one day, inevitably, their foe will lie bleeding to death at their feet, as the world is now.

— Daniel Quinn, Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit

victor-palenque-ishmael-lords-wolves-read-ishmael-daniel-quinn

The post American Exceptionalism: Private Wealth and Public Squalor first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Critical Lessons From Dr. Martin Luther King For These Times


NOTE: Margaret Flowers and Askia Muhammad will co-host an inaugural special on Pacifica Radio on Wednesday, January 20 from 6:30 to 8:00 pm Eastern. It can be heard on WBAI and WPFW. The theme will be Dr. King’s triple evils and what Biden’s cabinet picks tell us about what we can expect from this administration. Guests include Dr. Greg Carr, Abby Martin and Danny Sjursen.

Also, on Tuesday, January 26 at 8:00 pm Eastern, Popular Resistance will co-host a webinar, “COVID-19: How Weaponizing Disease and Vaccine Wars are Failing Us.” The webinar will be co-hosted by Margaret Flowers and Sara Flounders and it will feature Vijay Prashad, Max Blumethal, Margaret Kimberley and Lee Siu Hin. All are editors or contributors of the new book “Capitalism on a Ventilator.” Register at bit.ly/WeaponizingCOVID.

This week we celebrate the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and witness the inauguration of our next president, Joe Biden. This inauguration will be unique, first, for being held during a pandemic and, second, for its heightened security in fear of another attack by Trump supporters. Downtown Washington, DC is normally secured during an inauguration and people must pass through checkpoints to get into the Mall and parade route, but this time is different.

There are 25,000 members of the National Guard on duty in the city to protect the President and Members of Congress. But even this does not guarantee security. The FBI is screening every national guard member for ties to right wing militias and groups responsible for the January 6 assault on the Capitol. The ruling class experienced what it is like when those who are supposed to protect you don’t.

This insecurity is another facet of a society in break down. As Dr. King warned us over 50 years ago:

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin to shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-centered’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. . . . A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

Migrants march from Honduras to the United States with the hope of a better reception under a Biden administration (Luis Echeverria)

The pandemic and recession have exposed more widely what many communities have known for a long time, that corporate profits are more important than their lives and that lawmakers serve the wealthy class. During the pandemic, the rich have gotten richer, the Pentagon budget has ballooned with bi-partisan support and the people have not received what they need to survive. Unemployment, loss of health insurance, hunger and poverty are growing while the stock market ended the year with record highs.

Many are hopeful that a Democratic majority in Congress and a Democratic President will turn this around, and it is reasonable to expect there will be some positive changes. The Biden administration claims it will take immediate action to raise the federal minimum wage to $15/hour, extend the break on student loan payments, provide a one-time $1,400 payment and invest more in testing and vaccine administration, among other actions.

These actions are welcome, but they are a far cry from what is necessary. A family with two parents working full time for minimum wage will still live in poverty, even at $15/hour. The majority of people in the United States, 65%, support giving $2,000/month to every adult during the pandemic. This is supported by 54% of Republicans polled and 78% of Democrats. People with student loans are calling for them to be cancelled, not delayed. And, as I wrote in Truthout, Biden’s priority for managing the pandemic is on reopening businesses and schools, not on taking the public health measures that are called for such as shutting down with guarantees of housing and economic support and nationalizing the healthcare system, as other countries have done.

What is required is massive public investment in systemic changes that get to the roots of the crises we face. In addition to the triple evils that Dr. King spoke about, racism, capitalism and militarism, we can add the climate crisis. An eco-socialist Green New Deal such as that promoted by Howie Hawkins would get at the roots of each of these crises.

Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute argues that the economy can handle a massive investment of public dollars without fear of negative consequences, such as inflation, because for too long the economy has been starving the public while funneling wealth to the top. It is time for redistribution of that wealth to serve the public good.

In fact, Sam Pizzigati of Inequality.org writes that throughout history, governments have fallen when they fail to address wealth inequality and meet the people’s needs. This is the finding of a recent study called “Moral Collapse and State Failure: A View From the Past.” They write that the fall of pre-modern governments “can be traced to a principal leadership that inexplicably abandoned core principles of state-building that were foundational to these polities, while also ignoring their expected roles as effective leaders and moral exemplars.”

From Socialist Alternative

So far, it looks like what we can expect from the Biden Administration is a few tweaks to the system to placate people and relieve some suffering but not the system changes we require. Biden is actively opposed to national improved Medicare for All and a Green New Deal, two proposals that a majority of people, especially Democrats, support. Mark Dunlea explains why the Biden climate plan is inadequate for the dire situation we face.

Biden’s cabinet picks and language make it clear that the United States’ aggressive foreign policy of regime change and wars for resources and domination will continue. Samantha Power, a war hawk, has been chosen to head the USAID, an institution that invests in creating chaos and regime change efforts in other countries. Victoria Nuland, who was a major leader of the US’ successful coup in Ukraine that brought neo-Nazis to power, has been picked for Deputy Secretary of State for Political Affairs. Biden’s choices for CIA Director, Mike Morell, and Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, are both torture proponents. Abby Martin of Empire Files exposes the dark backgrounds of several other nominees for Biden’s cabinet, including Antony Blinken as Secretary of State, Jake Sullivan as National Security Adviser, Linda Thomas-Greenfield for United Nations Ambassador and Michael Flourney to head the Pentagon.

It also doesn’t appear that Democrats in Congress will show the necessary courage to fight for what the people need. Danny Haiphong of Black Agenda Report writes about the “Obama-fication” of “The Squad” and how they serve to protect the status quo and weaken the progressive movement. It is important to understand how they are the “more effective evil,” or as Gabriel Rockhill explains, they are the arm of liberal democracies that convince people to consent to the neo-liberal capitalism that is destroying our lives and the planet. This is how Western fascism rises within legislative bodies. Already, we are seeing champions of national improved Medicare for All, Bernie Sanders and Pramila Jayapal, back down to a position of lowering the age of Medicare eligibility, which would not solve our healthcare crisis, only delay that solution.

Chris Hedges often warns us that we need to know what we are up against if we are to effectively challenge it. Dr. King warned us that our nation was heading toward spiritual death if we did not get to the roots of the crises, the triple evils. He demonstrated that social movements should not align themselves with capitalist political parties because then the movement becomes subservient to their interests and compromises its own interests. And he told us what we must do. Prior to King’s death, he was organizing an occupation of Washington, DC to demand an end to poverty.

During the Biden administration, many of the progressive forces will work to weaken those of us who make demands for bold changes. They will try to placate us with a diverse cabinet of women and people of color who were chosen because they support capitalism, imperialism and systemic racism despite their identities. Chris Hedges describes this as a form of “colonialism.”

Our tasks are to maintain political independence from the capitalist parties, struggle for systemic changes and embrace a bold agenda that inspires people to take action. Through strategic and intentional action, we can achieve the changes we need. We have a key ingredient for success – widespread support for the changes we need. Now, we only need to mobilize in ways that inspire people and that have an impact – strikes, boycotts, occupations and more that are focused on improving the lives of everyone.

We can turn things around and reduce the suffering that is driving the polarization and trend towards violence in our country. It’s time to embrace our radical Dr. King.

The post Critical Lessons From Dr. Martin Luther King For These Times first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers: How Political Science and Neoclassical Economics Zombifies the Yankee Population

ORIENTATION

Why do political science and neoclassical economics go in one ear and out the other?

A human being who has a fully integrated social body understands that economics is about a social system of circulation of goods and services. In other words, provisioning for the population.  Politics is the collective process of evaluating and deciding a) where have we been (our past) and b) where are we going (the future). Politics is about steering.  With this framework, it would be inconceivable to steer or govern without referring to how well the economic system is working. How can you steer without an evaluation of how goods and services are circulating? So too, how can you monitor the economic provisioning process without checking on the decision-making process of the steering of our social direction? In fact, a person with an integrated social body only makes a distinction between economic and political processes for analytical purposes. It would be better to call the whole endeavor “political economy”.

However, if you received an undergraduate college degree you probably never had a class in political economy. What you probably had is at least one class in political science and another class in economics. If you are like most people, you found these classes either boring or incomprehensible. Why? The answer is because both fields are riddled with capitalist propaganda that has little basis in most people’s experience. Sure, there are some people who are convinced that political science and neoclassical economics make sense but which social class is this? Chances are it is members of the upper middle class for whom political and neoclassical economics make sense from their class position. But upper middle-class people are 10% of the Yankee population. Even if we take half of the 30% of the middle class, it is still only a quarter of the population. (I exclude the ruling class and the upper class for whom these courses are not relevant for different reasons).

For the rest of the middle class and lower classes, these courses are likely to produce apathy. There is a reason why Yankee masses hate politics and why they pay no attention to economics. For the elites who control political science and neoclassical economics fields, mass apathy is fine because they don’t want the lower classes asking political and economic questions. Mass apathy doesn’t mean they haven’t internalized the propaganda of political science and/or neoclassical economics. It just means some of these assumptions and images exist in the unconscious of people. For example, most people will say, if asked, “we live in a democracy”. So too they will say economically “there are no free lunches”, right out of neoclassical economics guru Milton Friedman’s playbook.

In the meantime, the social body has now slowly been taken over by two zombies: a political science zombie and a neoclassical economics zombie. This zombification process undergoes at least five processes:

  1. Political science and economics are cut off from history, anthropology and sociology.
  2. Political science and economics are separated from each other. In a political science class, if you ask an economic question about politics you will be told that is “not their department”. If you ask a political question in an economics class you will be told the same thing.
  3. Political science and economics classes become reified because both disciplines are presented as changeless and not subject to scandals, false turns or ideological manipulation. Both fields appear as things, dogmas, idols. In the case of the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence, these documents have become dogma. George Washington or Thomas Jefferson have become idols that are uncriticizable.
  4. Both fields focus on very small micro processes that are relatively inconsequential for the average person’s life. In both fields, this is done because smaller processes lend themselves more easily to scientific measurement. In addition, most neoclassical economics theories are presented in mathematical form which is intimidating for working class and even some middle-class people because they do not have formal training.
  5. Scientific method is emphasized over the content in the field. Unless you have some reason for going into each field professionally, knowledge of how they do science is not really relevant. In the case of Trump, if you want to know how someone with no political experience or training could become the president of Yankeedom, you won’t find the answers in your political science or civics courses.

The result is that any zombified Yankee college graduate is filled with self-congratulatory political science propaganda about the nature of democracy as well as self-congratulatory neo-classical economics which is filled with economics propaganda about the wonders of capitalism.

For this article I will draw on the books Tragedy of Political Science by David Ricci and Disenchanted Realists by Raymond Seidelman and Edward Harpham. For the economics section, I’ve drawn on Introduction to Political Economy by Sackrey, Schneider and Knoedler as well as E. K. Hunt’s History of Economic Thought and Polanyi’s The Great Transformation.

FROM INTERDISCIPLINARY TO SPECIALIZATION OF POLITICS AND ECONOMICS

In the beginning of both the study of politics and the study of economics each was understood as being inseparable from history, philosophy, sociology and anthropology. So, in the case of politics, we could never understand a form of rule without understanding the economic property relations through which rulers, and ruled interacted. Nor could we make sense of the rise and fall of dynasties without understanding the social class composition of the society. Lastly, how could we know how the current ruler differs from rulers decades or even centuries ago without including history.

In the case of economics, the interdisciplinary field that preceded it was called political economy. In the work of Smith, Ricardo and Marx, no economic transactions could be understood without understanding the machinations of political rulers or how the newly formed industrial capitalist society differed from the agricultural, slave capitalism that preceded it. This way of looking at things began to change in the last three decades of the 19th century with the marginal utility theorists Menger, Marshall and Walras, who gradually isolated economics from these other fields. This isolation continued into the 20th century with the Austrian school economics in the work of Eugen Ritter Böhm-Bawerk, Von Mises and Von Hayek just before World War II.

In the United States during the depression the work of Keynes was carried on as a political economy point of view because Keynes was interested in macroeconomics and he insisted the state needed to intervene to keep capitalism from going off the rails. The work of neo-classical economists Samuelson and then Milton Friedman in the 1950s and 1960s emphasized the independence of the market from all political influences.

ZOMBIE NUMBER ONE: POLITICAL SCIENCE PROPAGANDA FOR DEMOCRACY

How the political ideology of liberal pluralism gets in the way of research into how democratic Yankeedom actually is

American political theory has always fancied itself a democratic politics well before the end of the 19th century. There was never a time when political theory considered that Yankee politics’ “democracy” was ever something to be proven. It was already always the case.  Political science was not a neutral approach to the study of politics. It dwelt in a national context of liberal democracy. This political ideology operates with the following postulates:

  • presumption of human rationality – people are capable of thinking through their situation about what their own interest requires them to do;
  • the separation of religious from secular institutions (separation of church and state);
  • separation of political powers into legislative, executive and judicial fields;
  • the presence of more than one political party to represent factions of citizens who must have their interests checked and balanced by the upper classes (electoral college);
  • all that is most profound and enduring about politics was laid down by the Founding Fathers in their documents; and,
  • liberal faith in science as the midwife of social progress and enlightenment.

The infrastructure of democracy – political parties, the electoral college, the constitution, the separation of powers – could not be challenged. This is crucial because it puts a damper on the study of power blocks and the behavior of elites. To the extent that it takes inequalities seriously, it farms them out to other social science disciplines such as sociology or political sociology.

What would happen if the results of actual political scientific research continually denied central tenets of democratic ideology that political scientists in the United States believe in?  Supposed research showed that American citizens do not behave much like democratic citizens? Suppose a political scientist has a hypothesis that democratic theory in practice is an illusion. Can you still practice political science if you believe democracy really doesn’t exist? Suppose a scientist insists on studying politics scientifically even though their inquiry cannot insure the health of a democratic society. Hypothetically you should be able to do this research.

What are the chances of a research grant for a hypothesis designed to show how anti-democratic American social institutions are? Of course, political scientists have done this research in these areas and received grants. But the research in political science would be easier if you proposed research that made people hopeful, comfortable or at least neutral, rather than disturbing them. As of around the year 2000 there were two political science textbooks which did not toe the line of what will later be called “political pluralism”. One was Michael Parenti’s Democracy for the Few, which is Marxist. The other is Irony of Democracy by Louis Schubert and Thomas Dye, which are from the Elitist school of political science.

But political scientists work in educational communities and are somewhat dependent on each other. They have political tendencies that are not based on political facts but on political ideologies that inform the facts whether they are conservative, liberal or Marxist. These ideologies inform whether the reception they receive from their work is cool, hostile or enthusiastic. For example, the topic of political disorder is not looked upon favorably by political scientists. It undermines their theories and cracks their time-honored assumptions. This kind of research is far from welcomed, as important a topic as it might be.

As a political scientist, do you try to use the research to change the institutions in a more democratic way or do you leave the institutions alone and rewrite democratic theory to fit the growing problems and weaknesses of its institutions? The field of political science in the United States did the latter. We will focus on how the ideology of democracy kept political scientists from critically analyzing their own institutions.

Generations of Political Science in Yankeedom

The first generation of politics in the US, from 1880-1900 grounded politics in morality and comparative history. The goal was to pass on qualitative, comparative, eternal wisdom through the ages that led to the development of character.  Teachers taught many subjects in the humanities. A single teacher would be responsible for teaching rhetoric, criticism, English composition, logic, grammar, moral philosophy, natural and political law and metaphysics. Teachers were not expected to “publish or perish”, as commercial publishers would not publish books on research because they were not profitable. Scholars in other disciplines, however, judged their work. A single organization, Allied Social Science Association (ASSA) housed History, Economics and Anthropology. Teachers were both products and co-producers of breadth-full learning.

Progressive era of muckraking: Charles Beard

The period of muckraking in the Progressive Era (1896 – 1916) was more down-to-earth and left-liberal compared to the previous generation. The desire was to expose the conditions and the workings of corporate capitalism with writers like Upton Sinclair, Lincoln Steffens and Ida Turnbull.  Yet they were still interdisciplinary. For example, Charles Beard famously took the Constitution apart and identified the economic property relations that underlined it. Beard’s vision of a new society included the fusion of new state powers with a revived, educated, informed and activist public.

Positivism political science

But after World War I, interest in political muckraking and activism cooled. When the American Political Science Association (APSA) was set up as a field, its connection to research was separated from history, economics or sociology. As capitalists expanded their industry, companies merged into corporations.  They increasingly needed more highly trained managers to help in coordinating production, planning and supervising workers. Universities were chosen as the location to train the middle classes for work in these institutions. Some of these folks became political scientists.

Masses seem uninterested in substantive democracy

Beginning in the 1920s and 1930s, the field of politics was taken over by a positivist scientific orientation and was rechristened as “political science”. The emphasis on science meant using techniques of modern empirical research and descriptive studies. Guided by the perspective that the social sciences could be as rigorous as the natural sciences, modern political science was based not on the discovery of eternal truths, but on an ever-expanding body of quantitative research. Science was considered a university affair in which basic research was done, supposedly independent of how the research could be used.

What this new science found was that Americans did not seem to be acting very democratically at all. Many did not bother to vote and masses were susceptible to dictators. The research showed the average American does not conform to the modern liberalism of Dewey and Roosevelt. Merriam and Gosnell wrote about the non-voting public that 44% of non voters gave general indifference or inertia as reasons for not voting. Lasswell pointed out that the findings of personality show the individual is a poor judge of their own interest. In a world of irrational humans, Lasswell argued that a stable order must rely on a universal body of symbols and practices which sustain an elite. This stable order propagates itself by peaceful methods and wields a monopoly of coercion which is rarely necessary to apply, as Graham Wallas said in Human Nature in Politics.

But what if scientific investigations carefully carried out with the intent to improve society might instead contradict popular expectations and undermine faith in democracy? Were political scientists to inquire into the most efficient ways to overthrow America’s government and then publish the results? These are not the types of questions political scientists would be happy to entertain. The tragedy of political science is that in pursuing scientific facts while ignoring political values, those political values became unconscious as they crippled their ability to critically evaluate and challenge the social institutions that stood in the way of a substantive democracy.

Political science fails to explain dictatorships, communism or fascism

Liberal democracy had failed to take hold in Europe after World War I. Instead, in Mussolini’s control of Italy, dictatorships were established in Portugal, Yugoslavia, Austria, and Bulgaria. In 1931 the Japanese invaded Manchuria. In 1932 the Nazis were voted into power and in 1939 fascism triumphed in Spain – and then came World War II.

Political science provided little guidance for understanding the political processes that were shaping Germany (fascism) and Russia and China (state socialism). With regard to key questions of the day such as why fascism existed or how it was possible for peasants to overthrow governments, they provided no serious answer. Even more damning, they could not explain why the politics in their own country were becoming less democratic. The entire corpus of scientific knowledge seemed unable to provide a course for society to follow which would enlighten the population about the rudiments of democratic government. World War I, fascism, Stalinism and World War II signaled a loosening of forces that would make human progress chaotic at best, rather than automatic

In spite of all this, political science proceeded on its merry way as if nothing had happened. Old liberalism counted on the rationality of citizens and the responsiveness of government. Neither was found to be very true. These are not findings that political science wanted to hear because it strongly supported institutions and practices of liberalism. Probably the most famous political scientist of the 1920s and 1930s, Charles Merriam, still held out hope for the public. He promoted a civic education to improve the political life of the average person.

THIN DEMOCRACY

The reification of research methodology

The first thing political science did was to bury itself in research methodology and stop paying attention to voting patterns or even more seriously, the electoral process itself. It worked overtime to be accepted as a kindred spirit to the natural sciences. Its aim was to make its research methods as close to natural science as possible. This meant quantitative measurement and specialization of the field.

Liberal democracy is like scientific method

John Dewey saw science as organized intelligence. When humans work together at science, the methods they employ individually are reinforced by their interaction collectively as an ever-increasingly joint capacity. Dewey developed a system called instrumentalism to organize the findings of science. Dewey believed that discovering the truth was a dynamic process which was forever incomplete yet evolving. Likewise, Dewey thought democracy must be the scientific method applied to politics. He came to think that the method of political science as at least as important, if not more important, than criticizing and changing political institutions.

In 1945, Karl Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies was published. For the next decade, this was the stance that informed many polemics of the Cold War. Like Dewey, Popper saw the application of the scientific method as the road to democracy.  He wanted to use the scientific method in his professional work so as to make modest proposals for reforming small parts of society one at a time – piecemeal social engineering as opposed to a “dangerous” utopian program for reframing all parts of society totally and simultaneously as in Marxism. Part of the process of distinguishing science from non-science is to make a distinction between what is true as the result of research, and what should be done with the research. The basic concepts and hypotheses of political science should contain no elaboration of political doctrine or what the state and society ought to be or do.

A product of this specialization was the loss of communication with the public. Political scientists talked to fewer and fewer people and those who listened heard more and more about less and less. Their research was guided by statistics, survey research, and later on formal modeling and game theory. These studies created jargon incomprehensible to the lay person. Instead political scientists became more concerned with how the work might interest their colleagues. As this happened political scientists lost touch with their colleagues in other disciplines and only discussed their findings with those already in their field. Associations which once housed many disciples differentiated into specialized bodies: Political science became more on the surface and lost its depth and breath. Only concrete scientific investigations could yield true knowledge and that knowledge was empirical, particular and experimentally verifiable.

Political scientists naively believed that by simply amassing more data, eventually a theoretical breakthrough would occur about how political systems changed. But while political scientists were slowly amassing reliable political knowledge about increasingly smaller political processes, in their insistence on separating fact from political commitment they left the barn door open by not providing political alternatives as a guide for social policy. Their political crisis came when Leninists and fascists did have political commitment while political science had nothing qualitatively to offer their own politicians.

Thin (Procedural) Democracy

Additionally, besides burying themselves in research method, their standards for what constituted democracy slipped badly. Instead of facing the lack of real substantive democracy in their own country they simply compared themselves favorably to “totalitarian societies” to make them seem relatively more democratic. The bad news for substantive democracy in the West was papered over by a comparison with the political life in “totalitarian” societies. As the evidence on individual and group irrationality mounted, many members of the discipline felt constrained to advocate an approach to politics designed to compensate for some of democracy’s shortcomings. This thin theory of democracy would praise existing liberal practices and institutions rather than criticize weak democratic processes such as voting and the electoral college. They needed to find new justifications for accepting the sometimes-disappointing outcome of democratic processes in the real world.

Rise of pluralism: political practice of interest groups as social science

If individuals are irrational, how did American democracy control its rulers? Empirical democratic theorists or pluralists examined the dynamics of group politics and the effect of organized interest groups on electoral competition. A plurality of groups competes with each other to constrain rulers and political parties to some extent. Pluralists claim, following Arendt, that unlike atomized individuals in totalitarian societies, in liberal democratic societies voluntary associations can and do exist for exerting pressure. William Kornhauser argued for the importance of maintaining pluralism, a bevy of competing power centers to guard against “mass society”.

Tinkering Instrumentalism as the invisible hand of politics

Why isn’t democracy the collective process by which we first establish our values, list our alternatives, prioritize the alternatives, weigh the potential consequences of each alternative and then act together to test what works? According to pluralists, this collective rational deduction process won’t work because humans cannot agree as to which values are to be pursued.

Dahl and Lindblom claim there is another way, which they call disjointed incrementalism. In Politics, Economics and Welfare, Dahl and Lindblom claim that democratic politics is incremental.  Here small policy steps are taken without reference to unattainable consensus or grand objectives. Since a great many political actors from voters to interest groups to parties to bureaucrats must be consulted before anything gets done, this process will be disjointed. Yet it is a series of policy adjustments and taking small steps via calculated risks where immediate additions to old policy will not at once achieve all goals but at the same time will not unduly invite unforeseen tumultuous consequences.

Political science and the end of ideology movement

The self-congratulatory nature of political pluralism reached new heights with the “end of ideology movement.” From the late 1940’s and well into the 1960’s many leading scholars in the US agreed that Western society had progressed beyond any need for an explicit liberal ideology because liberalism had already won. The fundamental decency and social efficiency of American policy had been conclusively proven between 1930-1950. Daniel Bell (End of Ideology), Seymour Lipset, (Political Man) and Edward Shils agreed that most political parties in the West paid only lip service to ideology anyway. Secondly, there were so few social issues left that only practical tinkering rather than ideological solutions was needed. Daniel Boorstin’s book The Genius of American Politics argued that American political institutions by-passed the need for ideology. Raymond Aron, in the Opium of the Intellectuals, called for the abolition of ideological fanaticism and the advent of skeptics who will doubt all models and utopias. They rejected ideological speculation because its propositions could not be confirmed or disconfirmed. To questions about their ideological use of “the end of ideologies” in the service of the Cold War they responded that the Cold War was largely a military affair. Anti-ideologists represented the dominant American mood after WWII.

Political science pluralism excludes the working class

Seymour Lipset writes about working class authoritarianism. He points out that studies show the poorest strata of Western society were most likely to support Communist parties. Lipset believes the lower-class people simply do not fit the requirements for good citizenship. They are insufficiently pragmatic, open-minded skeptical and tolerant. Therefore, there is a social utility in the relative weakness of the lower classes. Real world democracies operate on the basis of high participation by elites with their superior political knowledge.  Low participation by the masses might impair the political process with their undemocratic attitudes. Liberal political scientists had accepted apathy among citizens.

Rough road for political science in the 1960s

As most everyone knows, the 1960s were a time of explosion that neither Popper nor the pluralists predicted. As far back as the mid-1950s C. Wright Mills described a concentrated power elite which controlled society rather than the pluralist theories of a many-centered polity. The civil rights movement, the opposition to the Vietnam War, the rise of the New Left and the women’s movement all went unexplained by political science pluralism.  Whether they called for reform or revolution, the politics of the 1960s were far from pluralist instrumentalism. Murray Edelman, in his book Symbolic Use of Politics, says the job of democratic procedures is to provide the public with symbolic gratification. Elections are for expressing discontent, for articulating enthusiasm, for enjoying political involvement and legitimating the democratic regime by giving it the appearance of popular support. Herbert Marcuse attacked pluralism for creating a “one-dimensional man”. John Galbraith argued that capitalism was not creating real public goods such as roads and bridges but was creating or expanding on the fleeting fancies of consumer products introduced by advertising.

Students complained that the universities were machines in the service of churning out passive consumers or beholden to military contractors. Student activists wanted universities to be agents of change, not handmaidens to the status quo. What united all these strands was a vision of politics that was participatory, not consensual. Political sciences had been focusing on conventional political processes, not the quality of the institutions themselves. They dealt with congresses, political parties, but not the content of what these institutions were doing. Students wanted more policy studies – that is, what the government chooses to do or not do. There were too few, if any, quantitative research studies found on powerful bureaucracies like the Department of Justice, the Ford Foundation or Institute for Defense Analysis. Political philosopher Sheldon Wolin advocated a for a renaissance in the vocation of political theory – to read, analyze, appreciate, extend and build upon the great political philosophers of yesterday. He called for a development of “epic theory”. Political science was not neutral. No stance is a stance for the status quo.

ZOMBIE NUMBER TWO: NEOCLASSICAL ECONOMICS

From political economy to neoclassical economics

Just as political science got cut off from its relationship to history, sociology, anthropology and moral theory by end of World War I, so too economics theory also got cut off from history, politics, anthropology and moral theory beginning around 1870. What now passes for economics, which is known in the United States as neoclassical economics, didn’t exist until the mid-20th century. Throughout the 18th-19th century there was a tradition called “political economy” which included Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Karl Marx and John Stuart Mill among others. Political economics assumed that economics could not be separated from history, politics or anthropology. It was only in the last three decades of the 19th century with the work of Jevons, Walras and Marshall – with what was called “marginal utility theory” – that economics began to be treated as if it could be separated from these other fields. The Austrian school of von Böhm-Bawerk, Von Mises and Von Hayek continued this tradition which separated the economy from the rest of social life. In the United States Paul Samuelson and Milton Friedman brought together neoclassical economics fields.

Polanyi’s Great Transformation

In his powerful book The Great Transformation, political economist Karl Polanyi argues that for most of human history there was no such thing as a separate realm called “the economy”. The economy was embedded in social relationships regarding the circulation of goods based on principles of “reciprocity” within families and kin groups. At the level of the state power of kings and aristocrats, these political relationships were regulated by what Polanyi called “redistribution”. What might be called an “economy” was limited to some trade relations between societies, not within them.

Polanyi argues that this began to change when capitalism brought into society the wheeling-and-dealing that was once limited to trade between societies. At the end of the 18th century when industrialization began to pulverize community relations based on generalized reciprocity and redistribution, the state became more centralized and reorganized society as market relations. There is no better account of this great transformation than to examine Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. While Adam Smith is considered the “father” of neoclassical economics, in most ways he represented a cross between political economy and neoclassical economics. In the first section below I will contrast him with those harder-line political economists like Marx. In the next section I will show how different he was from neoclassical economists.

Substantive vs formal rationality

If you ask most people what an economy is, they will tell you that it is a social process by which people work to produce goods and then the goods are circulated and consumed. But in the minds of neoclassical economists, the economy is not a society-wide social process involving the transformation of nature to meet human needs through a production and circulation process. For neoclassical economists, the economy is a micro exchange between self-interested, hedonistic individuals who compete with each other. Their decisions about what will be traded or bargained is based on short-term self-interest in which they weigh the pros and cons. Society is no more than the aggregate sum of these micro interactions.

Adam Smith vs radical political economists (Marx)

Turning to Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, the first thing worth noticing is the ahistorical manner in which the origins of capitalism are presented. Smith argues that individuals “trucked and bartered” all the way back to hunting and gathering societies. Ideologically it is important to establish that some form of capitalism has always existed. For Marx and the institutionalist political economy theory, capitalism has a more recent origin in the 15th and 16th centuries. No anthropologist who studied tribal societies would try to make Smith’s case.

Secondly, Smith claims that capitalism starts when frugal, hard-working, shrewd traders identify a need to invest capital in land. In the best of all possible worlds, the product sells and he makes a profit. This capitalist has to compete with other traders and the results of this competition are better products for everyone. Smith called this “the invisible hand” of the market. Marxists and post-Keynesians contest this. Marx argued that capitalism doesn’t begin with trading. It begins with what Marx called “the primitive accumulation of capital” when peasants are thrown off the land (enclosures) and their tools and animals are taken away from him. The capitalist uses the land for commercial farming growing coffee, sugar, cotton and tobacco through the labor of slaves. Meanwhile former peasants are driven to work in cities and eventually work in factories after capitalists have revolutionized industry in the 19th century.

Smith believes that the source of profit is in the circulation process. Capitalist make profits by winning the competition, buying land cheap and selling it dear. His ingenuity and risk-taking are rewarded. For Marx, the key to understanding the source of profit is not primarily circulation process, but the production process. Marx says that the exploitation by the capitalist of the laborer comes in the form of wages paid to the worker. Marx estimated that the wages of work covered the first four hours of labor. This was enough money to reproduce working-class life. The last 4-6 hours were surplus labor that was pocketed by the capitalist. So, the ultimate source of profit was the exploitation of labor power. Smith also has a labor theory of value, but it was not the most important factor.

Adam Smith was sensitive to the cost the specialization of labor might have on the body and mind of the worker in terms of alienation on the job. Despite that, he felt that the massive productivity of volume that would result was worth that cost. In Bertell Ollman’s great book Marx’s Theory of Alienation he points out that workers are alienated from a) the process of labor; b) the products of labor; c) other people on the job while laboring; d) the tools harnessed; e) alienation from himself. Marx’s hope was that once an abundance of goods was produced the worker should work less and have a diverse set of activities, as he said, fishing in the morning, cattle rearing in the afternoon, criticism in the evening.

Human nature for Smith is pretty bleak. He believed that human beings are pleasure-seeking, rational and competitive, but lazy. Most people would prefer to do nothing and it is only by the carrot and the stick of enterprising capitalists that makes workers productive. For Marx, people are naturally collectively creative and want to cooperate. People only appear lazy when they have been performing wage labor and they are tired and miserable. When people control their conditions of labor, they are more productive than under capitalist conditions. This has been shown in evidence of worker cooperatives and workers councils during revolutions.

For Adam Smith the fruits of competitive capitalism led to lower prices for consumers. Marx said this is not what actually happens. Competition between capitalists leads to a concentration of capital in a few corporations and the elimination of smaller capitalists. As Marxists Baran and Sweezy point out, corporate capitalists agree not to engage in cut-throat competition and the prices of commodities are pretty much the same. They compete through advertising, not through the prices themselves.  There are many more contrasts that could be made, but these are the most important. Let me turn now to the difference between Adam Smith and neo-classical economists like Milton Friedman. It is Milton Friedman‘s right-wing economics that is propagandized in college courses.

Adam Smith Vs Milton Friedman

Despite Smith’s departure from the more leftist political economists of Marx or Thorstein Veblen, compared to Milton Friedman, Adam Smith would have been considered a left liberal. In the first place, Adam Smith understood that the state was necessary for public works like roads, canals and harbors to provide education and defense. With rare exceptions, Milton Friedman wanted the state completely out of the market. His theory was “let the markets run everything”.

While Adam Smith was sensitive to the impact of the working conditions in factories, Milton Friedman might say that workers are free to find work elsewhere if the working conditions did not suit them. In terms of the source of profit, Adam Smith, like Marx, also included a labor theory of value. That means that the cost of a product depended at least partly on the labor time it takes to produce the product. To my knowledge, Milton Friedman ignored this.

How is wealth measured? Smith had an infrastructural answer to this. For him wealth is measured in a) the increased dexterity of every workman; b) the amount of time saved; and c) the inventions of machines that would shorten the workday for workers. Ultimately for Smith the increase in the standard of living of the poor should be the ultimate determination of social wealth. By today’s neoliberal and neoconservative light, Adam Smith would be to the left of Bernie Sanders! For Milton Friedman, he believed that maximizing the profits of capitalists would have a trickle-down effect on the poor.

Notice there is nothing in Adam Smith’s work about investment in the military or finance as sources of profit. For Adam Smith production of material, physical wealth was how profit was measured. For Milton Friedman, profit should be measured regardless of the field. This means that the profits made on a tractor and the profits made on a tank should all count as profit. This fails to make the distinction between tools which can produce food and tools which destroy land and people. So too, for Friedman, profits made on finance capital, investment in paper which produces no material wealth is the same as profits made on building roads, bridges or houses.

Adam Smith, like political economists such as Thorstein Veblen, included the creativity of farmers, artisan, scientists and engineers as creative sources for the economy. For Milton Friedman, the only fount of creative power was the ingenuity of the capitalist. Apparently, Friedman had little idea that the wealth capitalist possessed was not the result of personal ingenuity but most often from inheritance. Last time I checked about 2/3 of capitalist got their wealth from the inheritance they received.

Playing Hardball: the totalitarian nature of capitalist economics courses

In the fields of psychology, a student is presented with six different theoretical schools: psychoanalysis, behaviorism, humanistic psychology, physiological, evolutionary psychology and cognitive. In the fields of sociology, we might be presented with three founding schools – Marx, Weber and Durkheim. Second generation schools might be added: The Elitists (Mosca, Pareto, Michels), symbolic interactionists and rational choice theory. But in the field of economics, in Economics 101 classes, the student is presented with one school. That school would be the neoclassical economics of Samuelson and then later, Milton Freidman. No matter what the chapter heading, neoclassical economics has an interpretation and analysis.  Keynesian theory might be presented somewhat, but only in select chapters. Surprisingly only two schools are presented. Does this mean there are only two schools? Hardly.

In their book Introduction to Political Economy, Sackrey, Schneider and Knoedler identify a number of other schools. In addition to a full presentation of Keynes, also included are the works of John Kenneth Galbreath, Thorstein Veblen, Karl Marx, along with might be called the anarchist economics of worker cooperatives. There are other schools called post Keynesians like Steve Keen and Michael Hudson. These are all first-rate economics, why are they not included?

The reason is solely for propaganda purposes. Neoclassical economics theorists are cheerleaders for what I call market fundamentalism. Other schools vary in calling for more state intervention (Keynes, Galbraith) while some are critical of finance capitalism (Keens and Hudson). Others like Marxists and anarchists are critical of the entire capitalist system. The propagandistic nature of neoclassical economics can be more blatantly seen in the fact that there is not one Marxian economist in the United States that is the head of an economics department.

Conclusion

It has often been said by people living outside of Yankeedom that the Yankee masses are stupid people. We don’t know anything about the history of other societies or where they even are on the globe. As true as this may be, what is even more disturbing is that Yankee masses do not understand our own political economy. This article was designed to show how our social bodies have been snatched away and then inhabited by two zombified entities. A political science body which is designed to persuade us that we live in a democracy despite our own best judgment. The evidence political science offers us is self-congratulatory, contradictory, irrelevant, myopic, filled with deceptive comparisons and anti-communist.  The other body is a neo-classical economic entity which is also triumphant, mystifying, naïve, cynical, wooden, anti-social, shallow, obscurant and also anti-communist. Anyone in Yankeedom who manages to recover their social body must go through a process of de-zombification. What does this recovery look like? We must analyze the world through a political economy which is interdisciplinary, which is always undergoing quantitative and quantitative changes and through which we can collectively imagine and then build a new socialist world.

The post Invasion of the Body Snatchers: How Political Science and Neoclassical Economics Zombifies the Yankee Population first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“Policing Is Not Your Concern”

As the dust settles after the end of the University of Michigan’s (UM) historic eight-day strike, autopsies investigating the labor action are already being churned out. Why the strike ended, who is responsible for breaking the strike, and what future labor action at UM will look like are now questions that will doubtlessly rise to the forefront of debates among laborers at the university for many months—if not years—to come.

But we cannot allow those truly responsible for curtailing labor action to sink into the background: the university administration. Now is the time we should turn our focus to its functions, given it is an oblique and imposing assemblage that has been and will be difficult to reckon with. We know that it has already systematically worked to obstruct meaningful labor action across university campuses in the US. As we are made increasingly precarious as laborers and graduate student workers in the academy, what will our relationship be with university administration?

The presence of the university administration is clearly changing. In the past, the administration has only been exceedingly present and visible to those of us imbricated in its labor structure—faculty, staff, and graduate student workers. To us, it has historically and methodically directed its punitive dimensions, projecting its power and control over our employment and the budget to keep us in line. As laborers, we understand that its power to police is the core function of the university administration.

This also explains why, in the past, the administration has been less visible to undergraduate students. As customers paying a fee for subscribing to the academy, undergraduate students were meant to be strategically courted by the university. The administration’s core policing function is not attractive to consumers, and it has strenuously sought to keep itself less visible. Of course this, like in all circumstances of American life, was a raced and gendered experience. Some people are less likely to be courted than others.

Yet, under the conditions of COVID-19, the punitive appendage of the university administration is becoming perhaps its only one—it is making itself omnipresently visible both to consumers and to its laborers. The activity of customers (undergraduate students), after all, has taken on new threatening dimensions to administrations. What used to be part of the commodified university package—the “campus experience”—that the university once worked to sell is now a threat because of COVID-19.

Here, it is important to realize that the university’s apparatus to police is multifold. On one hand, universities across the US maintain an extensive and expensive campus-dedicated police force while also collaborating with municipal police. On the other, the actual university administration itself is a policing entity. It works to circumscribe students, workers, and faculty alike by holding finances, grades, and choices in its iron fist; to monitor, surveil, and record its student bodies; and ultimately to punish all people studying and working at the university when the occasion rises. We see these two phenomena—campus police and the policing function of the university administration—as inexorably imbricated. They work together to keep graduate students, staff, campus workers, faculty, and even students, from being able to effectively protest reckless university decisions altogether.

To understand the role of university administrations—disciplinary, punitive, and policing—one should turn to the various cases of labor actions that have dominated university laboring scenes in 2020. Students, workers, and student workers at the University of Michigan may have been the only ones to strike against a public university in the US during the Fall 2020 semester (so far), but they were not the only ones who agitated against university plans to reopen this fall. The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC) was one of the first public universities to open—and it was also one of the first that had to go online because of the alarming spike in COVID-19 cases among students, as predicted by graduate students, workers, and everyone who agitated to keep the universities remote. Formal labor action in the form of a strike may not have happened at UNC, but campus workers, graduate student workers, and staff were far from silent in the face of the looming campus reopening. In both these universities, campus police and municipal police presence on campus has been an issue of contention between those performing labor actions and the university administration.

Comparing the labor actions of these two different university worker groups—given that they followed different labor actions, had different organizing capabilities, and were operating in different labor environments—merely demonstrates the continuous logic that undergirds university administrations across the nation. Both administrations refused to credibly negotiate with workers or listen to their concerns. Both fabricated evidence that showed that their plans to open would be “safe.” Both lied when it suited them to do so. And both ultimately threatened workers, especially graduate student workers, when push came to shove. The reasons why these administrations’ reactions were so similar and so punitive toward university laborers were, as we will evidence here, because of the neoliberal impulses of the corporate university.

Labor Actions and Their Contexts

The Graduate Employee Organization’s (GEO) strike demands did not appear out of nowhere. These demands have a lineage that can be traced to GEO’s engagements with the University of Michigan administration earlier in the year. Throughout the winter semester, GEO was bargaining for its 2020-2023 contract. Considering that COVID-19 became more of a concern in the later stages of bargaining, demands for randomized testing and transparent public health models were not included as part of contract negotiations. However, our demands around racial justice were part of those negotiations, and as is expected from the university administration, discussions of disarming and demilitarizing were promptly dismissed and “off the table.” As contract negotiations concluded and fears over the university’s plans for the fall semester began to rise, GEO attempted to engage the university specifically over COVID-19, and it is in this stage of negotiations where a majority of the strike’s direct COVID-19 demands were first made known, such as emergency stipends, flexible childcare subsidies, and increased assistance for international graduate students navigating uncertain terrain around visas, work requirements, remote courses, etc.

Dismissing GEO’s COVID demands as financially infeasible, the university reminded graduate students that they received a pay raise while others across the university saw pay freezes. All the meanwhile, the administration continued business as usual, boasting about multimillion dollar gifts to the university, and approving credit lines to continue its capital projects. This tactic is, of course, nothing unusual. Similarly, graduate student workers have agitated at UNC for years to raise the base stipends, and during COVID-19, they have worked to secure a universal one-year funding extension and emergency funds across all departments—both of which have been dismissed by the university bureaucracy and individual departments as being similarly financially unfeasible. Even in the case of the history department, which has suspended graduate student admission next year, it is not clear that any of the funds saved by not paying salaries of new graduate student workers are going to tangibly increase the salaries of current graduate students (although the history department has granted funding prior to suspending student admissions next year). In fact, it’s not clear where the “savings” are going to go. Financial insecurity and the infeasibility and further financing precarious workers are oft-weaponized tactics by university administrations across the US.

The UM’s financial inconsistencies, claiming both impending financial doom for the university and a very strong financial position with a $12 billion endowment and a diverse revenue stream, coincided with the mass protests against police brutality in response to the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade, as well the Washtenaw County Police’s assault of Sha’Teina Grady El in Ypsilanti, MI, a neighboring town to Ann Arbor. Alongside several other graduate student organizations at UM, GEO called upon the administration to take tangible steps in living up to anti-racism, with a specific demand of beginning disengagement from police forces with known discriminatory practices and disarming campus police, picking up the demand UM refused to engage on during contract bargaining. During its early negotiations with GEO during the strike, the administration refused to engage in discussion around the graduate student workers’ policing demands, claiming campus policing falls outside of the union’s bargaining sphere and as separate from the COVID demands. However, GEO sees the two as inextricably linked, and when looking at the university’s opening plan, so does it. To enforce social distancing, and specifically to prevent large-scale parties off campus, UM created its “Michigan Ambassador’s” program, an initiative created in collaboration with the Ann Arbor Police Department. With the backdrop of months of protests against police brutality, the university of Michigan saw a new policing body made up of students, AAPD officers, and DPSS officers as the solution to create a COVID-safe campus. Deliberately ignored by the administration is how this initiative immediately puts Black and brown students in a double bind of danger.  Not only are they brought back onto campus with limited testing and no contact tracing, but on top of that, police are the mechanism used to ensure so-called safe behaviors.

It is against the background of being dismissed by the University as GEO advocated for a safe and just campus throughout the end of the winter term and through the summer that GEO’s strike emerged. Starting at 5am on Tuesday, September 8, and in the pouring rain, GEO members began the first shift of a twelve hour long picket. The trade union members who arrived at their construction sites respected our picket lines, and they continued to do so throughout the strike whenever GEO picket lines were at their job sites. The university administration’s approach of simply dismissing GEO and its demands became immediately more punitive, filing an unfair labor practice on the first day of the strike. On Wednesday, things began to snowball. That morning, undergraduate residential advisors went on strike without the protection of a union, citing the lack of protections and no hazard pay. Late that evening, the University administration came to GEO with its first offer.

While filled with many threats of retaliation, including a possible injunction should the strike continue, the offer did not include sufficient responses to GEO’s demands for greater testing, flexible childcare subsidies, and a universal remote teaching option. Additionally, the administration stood firm in its refusal to entertain the thought of engaging around our anti-policing demands. Throughout the four-hour long meeting, strikers weighed these fears of retaliation against the fact that the deal contained few wins. Furthermore, GEO members had to grapple with the question of what GEO would be signaling to the non-unionized RAs who just began their strike if the union accepted a deal that did nothing to keep them safe. Ultimately, the membership overwhelmingly voted to reject the deal, and picketing continued through Friday when another group of non-unionized undergraduate workers, the student dining staff, began a work slowdown, an amended strategy due to threats of retaliation had they started a full strike.

GEO’s initial strike authorization only lasted until Friday, 11 September, and with no offer on the table, which meant no non-retaliation clause, GEO membership authorized a strike extension. Throughout the weekend, the provost and president sent out a flurry of emails noting their willingness to come to the table and engage in good faith discussions with GEO. However, to the contrary and to reiterate the emails’ rhetoric, President Schlissel simultaneously sued UM’s graduate students, filing a court injunction that would force GEO members back into the classroom and underscoring the administration’s “good faith” negotiations. On Monday, and with a looming injunction over our heads, GEO returned to the picket lines, continuing the strike through Wednesday.

On Wednesday evening, GEO members reconvened for another general membership meeting to discuss and vote on UM’s second offer. Between the first and second offer, GEO made most of its tangible gains around childcare. Regarding the anti-policing demands, the second offer included the creation of a task force and a reevaluating the Michigan Ambassador’s program. Taken comprehensively, the second offer was just as insulting as the first. And while the university’s proposal had not changed significantly, the context in which strikers were agitating had. After the injunction hearing, those on the picket line would not have the protection of the union. To continue agitating with the injunction in place would shift punishment from the academic and university realm and into the legal sphere, placing our Black, brown, and Indigenous peers at greater risk. Furthermore, the irrevocable damage of a court filing abstractly mentioned in the 9 September meeting was now very real. GEO could not survive a court battle with UM lawyers. As graduate student workers, we have few protections, and the university administration made the conscious and intentional decision to attack the strongest protection graduate student workers have at our back: GEO. UM quickly engaged the courts, signaling loud and clear how it is unafraid to invoke hard punitive measures. GEO did not accept this second offer because of its content. GEO membership accepted the deal because to reject it would pave the way for the University to destroy our union.

Well before the strike, UM saw GEO’s demands that advocated for protecting the campus community and greater Ann Arbor community from seeing the town turn into a COVID-19 hotspot. Against the advice of its own ethics committee, the University of Michigan brought back a significant majority of its students to campus without honestly engaging with faculty, students, and staff about the risks. Now, both the campus and Ann Arbor community are left at risk. With inaccurate updating, it is unclear exactly how many cases of COVID-19 there are on campus. President Schlissel’s “public-health informed” semester was said to be based in science. Yet, as was found out through GEO’s strike, the models used to justify reopening campus had too wide of confidence margins and now the dashboard houses inaccurate and unhelpful data, leaving us wondering how the administration is using science to protect its community. When science didn’t work, the administration turned to policing. At both ends of the process of monitoring COVID-19, the administration enlists police forces to deal with students and workers. Roaming the streets on weekends, the police punish students hosting large gatherings and then later when someone tests positive for COVID-19 in the dorms, often campus security is called to escort them to quarantine housing.

The case of UM clearly demonstrates how the two veins of policing in the corporate university—campus police and the university administration’s policing capacities—are deeply intertwined. To further evidence the pervasiveness of this relationship across all US universities, we now turn briefly to UNC.

Labor Actions, Workers, and Allies

UNC has a history of graduate student worker strikes. After a semester of agitation which tore down the silent sam confederate memorial, in Fall 2018, TAs refused to submit final grades for students until the Board of Trustees rescinded their promise to erect a space that would continue to enshrine  the toppled racist edifice.

This was not the end of graduate student worker action in the last few years. At UNC, labor action has often been channeled between the Anti-Racist Graduate Worker Collective and the local UE150 union. When UNC’s university administration announced its plans to reopen over the summer, the administration anticipated student backlash, and therefore formulated a plan to misdirect workers’ ability to agitate effectively: endless meetings that yielded no tangible results. For instance, early on in the agitation, activists were told by the university administration that they would only communicate via the Graduate and Professional Student Federation (GPSF), which they considered to be the only legitimate elected and representative body and therefore the mouthpiece of graduate students. When graduate students managed to get GPSF to pass a resolution that campus should remain remote (among other demands), UNC administration promptly ignored that resolution. In another instance, UNC students were told repeatedly that, if the Orange County Health Department (OCHD) mandated that the university close, UNC would adhere to that mandate. UNC students and workers were urged to email the OCHD at volume to beg them to issue this mandate. What UNC administration didn’t admit at the time was that the OCHD has no ability to issue mandates, only recommendations. When the OCHD did issue a recommendation not to open on campus, the administration then, predictably, ignored it.

There are countless examples of this sort of misdirection that occurred throughout the summer—and by the time August came around, the writing was on the wall. The university administration never intended to listen to workers, regardless of what happened, in order to meet that sacred bottom line. They were willing to sacrifice students and vulnerable staff no matter the cost, and had already proven it by sickening 37 student athletes and staff by July 2020. As in the case of the UM,  at UNC similarly linked demands for pandemic relief to the ending of police presence on campus, understanding, like the UM workers, that the deteriorative impact COVID-19 among the communities of Black, Indigenous, and people of color has been exacerbated by racist policing across the US. UNC responded by posting police at dorms to “welcome” students back to campus—and more importantly, to ensure that students adhered to the frankly impossible distancing guidelines. Police were frequently employed to issue citations to students allegedly not correctly distancing—a move that, predictably given the racist core of police, most frequently targeted Black students most.

The lack of strong organizing and direct labor action over the summer cost the UNC and wider Chapel Hill community dearly. Hundreds of known COVID-19 cases spread in the first two weeks of students living on campus, and likely thousands of unknown ones since UNC sent students home without exit tests. At the same time, we had no clear allies: faculty were signaling obliquely they were unwilling to strike or support a strike, graduate student workers were divided, campus staff were similarly without a consensus. Yet, it is unclear whether direct labor action would have yielded a different outcome, given what we now see from the UM.

The Neoliberal Afterlives of Corporate University Action

In the wake of two modes of labor organizing—one with the support of a sanctioned union (UM), and one occurring in a hybrid form where students were divided between working within a union and outside of one (UNC)—we can now begin to draw conclusions about the kind of university system we now inhabit. After all, in neither case did the university administration attempt to engage in compromise. It seems that to universities now, any amount of labor organizing among graduate student workers on campus is too much labor organizing—on both campuses, the university moved to quash it without engaging in true-heartened negotiation. Furthermore, this is not the only circumstance in which university administrators have attempted to aggressively curtail labor action, as in the University of California-Santa Cruz’s infamous firing of 54 graduate student workers for engaging in a grade strike in Spring 2020 (41 who were eventually rehired due to continued graduate student worker agitation). Given this, what conclusions can we draw about the role of the university administration?

It’s obvious now: the core function—perhaps its only function—of the university administration is to police students and laborers alike. Its multidirectional ability to police, both through dedicated campus police that police our bodies and the university administration’s policing logic that circumscribe our range of choices, have been detrimental.

For generations, our collective ability to engage in labor actions has been deliberately undercut, both at the state level and at the level of our universities. From state legal impediments like right-to-work laws, to deliberate university decisions to keep workers weak, like the fact that graduate student worker stipends at UNC do not even come close to the minimum livable wage in Orange County, it is clear that the state and the university work hand-in-hand across the country in attempting to destroy our possibilities for labor action. Dragging its heels on providing conditions to benefit us, it is quick to lash out when its commodities (classes and grades) are threatened, levying injunctions and the omnipresent threat of firings and wage withholdings when it sees fit. The neoliberal corporate university seeks to individuate us as political-economic actors, to depoliticize us as laborers, and, failing that, to punish us aggressively for daring to envision a better future.

What does this mean for the future of university solidarity organizing?

At first glance, conditions appear bleak. But the university administrations are in a crisis mode. Reckless reopening plans across the country have sickened mass populations of students, staff, and workers across the US. Campuses have become the new national hotspots, contributing about 40,000 new cases since campuses began reopening in August (as of 11 September 2020). Class action lawsuits are pouring in. Some estimates show that college enrollment in the coming years could fall as much as 20%. All of these facts line up very dangerously against the business-as-usual model that corporatized universities have attempted to employ in the Fall 2020 semester.

Yet, UNC has now all-but-officially announced that it plans to once again attempt to open for Spring 2020, and UM continues to go about its business without the faith and support of many faculty and graduate students. What will the university administration do to protect this decision—and other dangerous, reckless, and selfish decisions like it—going forward now?

The post "Policing Is Not Your Concern” first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“Policing Is Not Your Concern”

As the dust settles after the end of the University of Michigan’s (UM) historic eight-day strike, autopsies investigating the labor action are already being churned out. Why the strike ended, who is responsible for breaking the strike, and what future labor action at UM will look like are now questions that will doubtlessly rise to the forefront of debates among laborers at the university for many months—if not years—to come.

But we cannot allow those truly responsible for curtailing labor action to sink into the background: the university administration. Now is the time we should turn our focus to its functions, given it is an oblique and imposing assemblage that has been and will be difficult to reckon with. We know that it has already systematically worked to obstruct meaningful labor action across university campuses in the US. As we are made increasingly precarious as laborers and graduate student workers in the academy, what will our relationship be with university administration?

The presence of the university administration is clearly changing. In the past, the administration has only been exceedingly present and visible to those of us imbricated in its labor structure—faculty, staff, and graduate student workers. To us, it has historically and methodically directed its punitive dimensions, projecting its power and control over our employment and the budget to keep us in line. As laborers, we understand that its power to police is the core function of the university administration.

This also explains why, in the past, the administration has been less visible to undergraduate students. As customers paying a fee for subscribing to the academy, undergraduate students were meant to be strategically courted by the university. The administration’s core policing function is not attractive to consumers, and it has strenuously sought to keep itself less visible. Of course this, like in all circumstances of American life, was a raced and gendered experience. Some people are less likely to be courted than others.

Yet, under the conditions of COVID-19, the punitive appendage of the university administration is becoming perhaps its only one—it is making itself omnipresently visible both to consumers and to its laborers. The activity of customers (undergraduate students), after all, has taken on new threatening dimensions to administrations. What used to be part of the commodified university package—the “campus experience”—that the university once worked to sell is now a threat because of COVID-19.

Here, it is important to realize that the university’s apparatus to police is multifold. On one hand, universities across the US maintain an extensive and expensive campus-dedicated police force while also collaborating with municipal police. On the other, the actual university administration itself is a policing entity. It works to circumscribe students, workers, and faculty alike by holding finances, grades, and choices in its iron fist; to monitor, surveil, and record its student bodies; and ultimately to punish all people studying and working at the university when the occasion rises. We see these two phenomena—campus police and the policing function of the university administration—as inexorably imbricated. They work together to keep graduate students, staff, campus workers, faculty, and even students, from being able to effectively protest reckless university decisions altogether.

To understand the role of university administrations—disciplinary, punitive, and policing—one should turn to the various cases of labor actions that have dominated university laboring scenes in 2020. Students, workers, and student workers at the University of Michigan may have been the only ones to strike against a public university in the US during the Fall 2020 semester (so far), but they were not the only ones who agitated against university plans to reopen this fall. The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC) was one of the first public universities to open—and it was also one of the first that had to go online because of the alarming spike in COVID-19 cases among students, as predicted by graduate students, workers, and everyone who agitated to keep the universities remote. Formal labor action in the form of a strike may not have happened at UNC, but campus workers, graduate student workers, and staff were far from silent in the face of the looming campus reopening. In both these universities, campus police and municipal police presence on campus has been an issue of contention between those performing labor actions and the university administration.

Comparing the labor actions of these two different university worker groups—given that they followed different labor actions, had different organizing capabilities, and were operating in different labor environments—merely demonstrates the continuous logic that undergirds university administrations across the nation. Both administrations refused to credibly negotiate with workers or listen to their concerns. Both fabricated evidence that showed that their plans to open would be “safe.” Both lied when it suited them to do so. And both ultimately threatened workers, especially graduate student workers, when push came to shove. The reasons why these administrations’ reactions were so similar and so punitive toward university laborers were, as we will evidence here, because of the neoliberal impulses of the corporate university.

Labor Actions and Their Contexts

The Graduate Employee Organization’s (GEO) strike demands did not appear out of nowhere. These demands have a lineage that can be traced to GEO’s engagements with the University of Michigan administration earlier in the year. Throughout the winter semester, GEO was bargaining for its 2020-2023 contract. Considering that COVID-19 became more of a concern in the later stages of bargaining, demands for randomized testing and transparent public health models were not included as part of contract negotiations. However, our demands around racial justice were part of those negotiations, and as is expected from the university administration, discussions of disarming and demilitarizing were promptly dismissed and “off the table.” As contract negotiations concluded and fears over the university’s plans for the fall semester began to rise, GEO attempted to engage the university specifically over COVID-19, and it is in this stage of negotiations where a majority of the strike’s direct COVID-19 demands were first made known, such as emergency stipends, flexible childcare subsidies, and increased assistance for international graduate students navigating uncertain terrain around visas, work requirements, remote courses, etc.

Dismissing GEO’s COVID demands as financially infeasible, the university reminded graduate students that they received a pay raise while others across the university saw pay freezes. All the meanwhile, the administration continued business as usual, boasting about multimillion dollar gifts to the university, and approving credit lines to continue its capital projects. This tactic is, of course, nothing unusual. Similarly, graduate student workers have agitated at UNC for years to raise the base stipends, and during COVID-19, they have worked to secure a universal one-year funding extension and emergency funds across all departments—both of which have been dismissed by the university bureaucracy and individual departments as being similarly financially unfeasible. Even in the case of the history department, which has suspended graduate student admission next year, it is not clear that any of the funds saved by not paying salaries of new graduate student workers are going to tangibly increase the salaries of current graduate students (although the history department has granted funding prior to suspending student admissions next year). In fact, it’s not clear where the “savings” are going to go. Financial insecurity and the infeasibility and further financing precarious workers are oft-weaponized tactics by university administrations across the US.

The UM’s financial inconsistencies, claiming both impending financial doom for the university and a very strong financial position with a $12 billion endowment and a diverse revenue stream, coincided with the mass protests against police brutality in response to the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade, as well the Washtenaw County Police’s assault of Sha’Teina Grady El in Ypsilanti, MI, a neighboring town to Ann Arbor. Alongside several other graduate student organizations at UM, GEO called upon the administration to take tangible steps in living up to anti-racism, with a specific demand of beginning disengagement from police forces with known discriminatory practices and disarming campus police, picking up the demand UM refused to engage on during contract bargaining. During its early negotiations with GEO during the strike, the administration refused to engage in discussion around the graduate student workers’ policing demands, claiming campus policing falls outside of the union’s bargaining sphere and as separate from the COVID demands. However, GEO sees the two as inextricably linked, and when looking at the university’s opening plan, so does it. To enforce social distancing, and specifically to prevent large-scale parties off campus, UM created its “Michigan Ambassador’s” program, an initiative created in collaboration with the Ann Arbor Police Department. With the backdrop of months of protests against police brutality, the university of Michigan saw a new policing body made up of students, AAPD officers, and DPSS officers as the solution to create a COVID-safe campus. Deliberately ignored by the administration is how this initiative immediately puts Black and brown students in a double bind of danger.  Not only are they brought back onto campus with limited testing and no contact tracing, but on top of that, police are the mechanism used to ensure so-called safe behaviors.

It is against the background of being dismissed by the University as GEO advocated for a safe and just campus throughout the end of the winter term and through the summer that GEO’s strike emerged. Starting at 5am on Tuesday, September 8, and in the pouring rain, GEO members began the first shift of a twelve hour long picket. The trade union members who arrived at their construction sites respected our picket lines, and they continued to do so throughout the strike whenever GEO picket lines were at their job sites. The university administration’s approach of simply dismissing GEO and its demands became immediately more punitive, filing an unfair labor practice on the first day of the strike. On Wednesday, things began to snowball. That morning, undergraduate residential advisors went on strike without the protection of a union, citing the lack of protections and no hazard pay. Late that evening, the University administration came to GEO with its first offer.

While filled with many threats of retaliation, including a possible injunction should the strike continue, the offer did not include sufficient responses to GEO’s demands for greater testing, flexible childcare subsidies, and a universal remote teaching option. Additionally, the administration stood firm in its refusal to entertain the thought of engaging around our anti-policing demands. Throughout the four-hour long meeting, strikers weighed these fears of retaliation against the fact that the deal contained few wins. Furthermore, GEO members had to grapple with the question of what GEO would be signaling to the non-unionized RAs who just began their strike if the union accepted a deal that did nothing to keep them safe. Ultimately, the membership overwhelmingly voted to reject the deal, and picketing continued through Friday when another group of non-unionized undergraduate workers, the student dining staff, began a work slowdown, an amended strategy due to threats of retaliation had they started a full strike.

GEO’s initial strike authorization only lasted until Friday, 11 September, and with no offer on the table, which meant no non-retaliation clause, GEO membership authorized a strike extension. Throughout the weekend, the provost and president sent out a flurry of emails noting their willingness to come to the table and engage in good faith discussions with GEO. However, to the contrary and to reiterate the emails’ rhetoric, President Schlissel simultaneously sued UM’s graduate students, filing a court injunction that would force GEO members back into the classroom and underscoring the administration’s “good faith” negotiations. On Monday, and with a looming injunction over our heads, GEO returned to the picket lines, continuing the strike through Wednesday.

On Wednesday evening, GEO members reconvened for another general membership meeting to discuss and vote on UM’s second offer. Between the first and second offer, GEO made most of its tangible gains around childcare. Regarding the anti-policing demands, the second offer included the creation of a task force and a reevaluating the Michigan Ambassador’s program. Taken comprehensively, the second offer was just as insulting as the first. And while the university’s proposal had not changed significantly, the context in which strikers were agitating had. After the injunction hearing, those on the picket line would not have the protection of the union. To continue agitating with the injunction in place would shift punishment from the academic and university realm and into the legal sphere, placing our Black, brown, and Indigenous peers at greater risk. Furthermore, the irrevocable damage of a court filing abstractly mentioned in the 9 September meeting was now very real. GEO could not survive a court battle with UM lawyers. As graduate student workers, we have few protections, and the university administration made the conscious and intentional decision to attack the strongest protection graduate student workers have at our back: GEO. UM quickly engaged the courts, signaling loud and clear how it is unafraid to invoke hard punitive measures. GEO did not accept this second offer because of its content. GEO membership accepted the deal because to reject it would pave the way for the University to destroy our union.

Well before the strike, UM saw GEO’s demands that advocated for protecting the campus community and greater Ann Arbor community from seeing the town turn into a COVID-19 hotspot. Against the advice of its own ethics committee, the University of Michigan brought back a significant majority of its students to campus without honestly engaging with faculty, students, and staff about the risks. Now, both the campus and Ann Arbor community are left at risk. With inaccurate updating, it is unclear exactly how many cases of COVID-19 there are on campus. President Schlissel’s “public-health informed” semester was said to be based in science. Yet, as was found out through GEO’s strike, the models used to justify reopening campus had too wide of confidence margins and now the dashboard houses inaccurate and unhelpful data, leaving us wondering how the administration is using science to protect its community. When science didn’t work, the administration turned to policing. At both ends of the process of monitoring COVID-19, the administration enlists police forces to deal with students and workers. Roaming the streets on weekends, the police punish students hosting large gatherings and then later when someone tests positive for COVID-19 in the dorms, often campus security is called to escort them to quarantine housing.

The case of UM clearly demonstrates how the two veins of policing in the corporate university—campus police and the university administration’s policing capacities—are deeply intertwined. To further evidence the pervasiveness of this relationship across all US universities, we now turn briefly to UNC.

Labor Actions, Workers, and Allies

UNC has a history of graduate student worker strikes. After a semester of agitation which tore down the silent sam confederate memorial, in Fall 2018, TAs refused to submit final grades for students until the Board of Trustees rescinded their promise to erect a space that would continue to enshrine  the toppled racist edifice.

This was not the end of graduate student worker action in the last few years. At UNC, labor action has often been channeled between the Anti-Racist Graduate Worker Collective and the local UE150 union. When UNC’s university administration announced its plans to reopen over the summer, the administration anticipated student backlash, and therefore formulated a plan to misdirect workers’ ability to agitate effectively: endless meetings that yielded no tangible results. For instance, early on in the agitation, activists were told by the university administration that they would only communicate via the Graduate and Professional Student Federation (GPSF), which they considered to be the only legitimate elected and representative body and therefore the mouthpiece of graduate students. When graduate students managed to get GPSF to pass a resolution that campus should remain remote (among other demands), UNC administration promptly ignored that resolution. In another instance, UNC students were told repeatedly that, if the Orange County Health Department (OCHD) mandated that the university close, UNC would adhere to that mandate. UNC students and workers were urged to email the OCHD at volume to beg them to issue this mandate. What UNC administration didn’t admit at the time was that the OCHD has no ability to issue mandates, only recommendations. When the OCHD did issue a recommendation not to open on campus, the administration then, predictably, ignored it.

There are countless examples of this sort of misdirection that occurred throughout the summer—and by the time August came around, the writing was on the wall. The university administration never intended to listen to workers, regardless of what happened, in order to meet that sacred bottom line. They were willing to sacrifice students and vulnerable staff no matter the cost, and had already proven it by sickening 37 student athletes and staff by July 2020. As in the case of the UM,  at UNC similarly linked demands for pandemic relief to the ending of police presence on campus, understanding, like the UM workers, that the deteriorative impact COVID-19 among the communities of Black, Indigenous, and people of color has been exacerbated by racist policing across the US. UNC responded by posting police at dorms to “welcome” students back to campus—and more importantly, to ensure that students adhered to the frankly impossible distancing guidelines. Police were frequently employed to issue citations to students allegedly not correctly distancing—a move that, predictably given the racist core of police, most frequently targeted Black students most.

The lack of strong organizing and direct labor action over the summer cost the UNC and wider Chapel Hill community dearly. Hundreds of known COVID-19 cases spread in the first two weeks of students living on campus, and likely thousands of unknown ones since UNC sent students home without exit tests. At the same time, we had no clear allies: faculty were signaling obliquely they were unwilling to strike or support a strike, graduate student workers were divided, campus staff were similarly without a consensus. Yet, it is unclear whether direct labor action would have yielded a different outcome, given what we now see from the UM.

The Neoliberal Afterlives of Corporate University Action

In the wake of two modes of labor organizing—one with the support of a sanctioned union (UM), and one occurring in a hybrid form where students were divided between working within a union and outside of one (UNC)—we can now begin to draw conclusions about the kind of university system we now inhabit. After all, in neither case did the university administration attempt to engage in compromise. It seems that to universities now, any amount of labor organizing among graduate student workers on campus is too much labor organizing—on both campuses, the university moved to quash it without engaging in true-heartened negotiation. Furthermore, this is not the only circumstance in which university administrators have attempted to aggressively curtail labor action, as in the University of California-Santa Cruz’s infamous firing of 54 graduate student workers for engaging in a grade strike in Spring 2020 (41 who were eventually rehired due to continued graduate student worker agitation). Given this, what conclusions can we draw about the role of the university administration?

It’s obvious now: the core function—perhaps its only function—of the university administration is to police students and laborers alike. Its multidirectional ability to police, both through dedicated campus police that police our bodies and the university administration’s policing logic that circumscribe our range of choices, have been detrimental.

For generations, our collective ability to engage in labor actions has been deliberately undercut, both at the state level and at the level of our universities. From state legal impediments like right-to-work laws, to deliberate university decisions to keep workers weak, like the fact that graduate student worker stipends at UNC do not even come close to the minimum livable wage in Orange County, it is clear that the state and the university work hand-in-hand across the country in attempting to destroy our possibilities for labor action. Dragging its heels on providing conditions to benefit us, it is quick to lash out when its commodities (classes and grades) are threatened, levying injunctions and the omnipresent threat of firings and wage withholdings when it sees fit. The neoliberal corporate university seeks to individuate us as political-economic actors, to depoliticize us as laborers, and, failing that, to punish us aggressively for daring to envision a better future.

What does this mean for the future of university solidarity organizing?

At first glance, conditions appear bleak. But the university administrations are in a crisis mode. Reckless reopening plans across the country have sickened mass populations of students, staff, and workers across the US. Campuses have become the new national hotspots, contributing about 40,000 new cases since campuses began reopening in August (as of 11 September 2020). Class action lawsuits are pouring in. Some estimates show that college enrollment in the coming years could fall as much as 20%. All of these facts line up very dangerously against the business-as-usual model that corporatized universities have attempted to employ in the Fall 2020 semester.

Yet, UNC has now all-but-officially announced that it plans to once again attempt to open for Spring 2020, and UM continues to go about its business without the faith and support of many faculty and graduate students. What will the university administration do to protect this decision—and other dangerous, reckless, and selfish decisions like it—going forward now?

The post "Policing Is Not Your Concern” first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The 5th Coronavirus Relief Package We Need

The coronavirus depression is fast becoming as deep as the Great Depression. The federal government’s response has been too little, too late.

While sickness and death spread, while unemployment and small business failures soar, while health care and essential workers lack personal protective equipment (PPE), Congress is in recess until May 4.

The childlike dummy, Donald Trump, spouts bad advice daily in his televised briefings. Thursday he said we could beat the coronavirus by injecting disinfectants or somehow shining ultraviolet radiation inside our bodies.

Meanwhile, the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, is MIA. Is he sitting on a park bench somewhere feeding bread crumbs to pigeons?

Since the lockdown started five weeks ago, 26 million people have applied for unemployment insurance. But many qualified people have yet to receive unemployment benefits, or even get their applications accepted through overwhelmed state unemployment insurance agencies.

Economists estimate that the real unemployment rate may have reached 23% in April, which is about as high as it ever got in the Great Depression. The economy had contracted nearly 50% four years into Great Depression, while economists predict a contraction of 25% to 50% over a few months now.

Many of these temporary layoffs are turning into permanent job losses as businesses fail, particularly the small business that provide half of the nation’s jobs. Half of small businesses went into the lockdown with less than a month of cash reserves to cover fixed expenses like rent or mortgage and utilities. When small businesses run out of cash, they are dead.

The Payroll Protection Program (PPP) was supposed to keep these small businesses going, but like the unemployment insurance program, the loans are not getting to most people and the money allocated is far from enough to meet the need. 60% of small businesses have applied, but only 5% small businesses have received PPP funding.

When the lockdown started, Obama’s Small Business Administration head, Karen Mills, predicted a small business failure rate of 20% in a “best case scenario” and 30% in a “good scenario.” With a nearly 100% failure rate by the federal government in responding to the coronavirus depression, the carnage among small businesses and their workers is looking like a worst case scenario.

Big businesses are getting bailed out. Much of the money designated for small businesses has been snatched up by big businesses before small business’s applications were even considered. The half a trillion allocated for big businesses is being doled out to Trump cronies without disclosure of the recipients and without restrictions against firing workers or bonuses for executives. The Federal Reserve has cut its overnight borrowing interest rate for banks to zero and is engaged in unlimited trillions of dollars of quantitative easing to backstop corporate debt.

Meanwhile, essential workers—in hospitals, grocery stores, public transit, sanitation, food processing, package handling, delivery—are working in most cases without adequate or any PPE. We have already lost 83 transit workers to COVID-19 in New York City. We must demand an OSHA Temporary Standard to provide enforceable PPE protection for workers.

Most of the elements of the 5th Relief Package we need have been introduced by various members of Congress, but they won’t be included if we don’t speak up and demand real emergency relief.

Here are measures the 5th Relief Package should include to protect our health and well-being during the crisis:

– Medicare to Pay for COVID-19 Testing and Treatment and All Emergency Health Care
– Defense Production Act to Rapidly Plan the Production and Distribution of Medical Supplies and a Universal Test, Contact Trace, and Quarantine – – Program to Safely Reopen the Economy
– An OSHA Temporary Standard to Provide Enforceable PPE Protection for Workers
– $2,000 a Month to All Over Age 16 and $500 per Child
– Loans to All Businesses and Hospitals for Payroll and Fixed Overhead To Be Forgiven If All Workers Are Kept on Payroll
– Moratorium on Evictions, Foreclosures, and Utility Shutoffs
– Cancel Rent, Mortgage, and Utility Payments; Federal Government Pays Those Bills; High-income People Pay Taxes on this Relief
– Suspend Student Loan Payments with 0% Interest Accumulation
– Federal Universal Rent Control
– Aid to State and Local Governments Sufficient to Keep Essential Services Running
– Universal Mail-in Ballots for the 2020 General Election

A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco found that over the last 600 years, the economic depression after pandemics persists for about 40 years, in contrast to much faster recoveries after wars. The difference is that capital is destroyed in wars that has to be rebuilt, but not in pandemics. Coming out of this pandemic, we should destroy the productive capital stock that has been heating up the planet and poisoning the environment and replace it with clean energy, zero waste production systems.

To rebuild our economy when it is safe to go back to work, we should invest public money on the scale needed to put everyone to back to doing what we should have been doing before the coronavirus crisis hit in order to protect our climate and our people. I have detailed a 10-Year, $42 Trillion budget for an Ecosocialist Green New Deal that would create 38 million new jobs rebuilding all of our production systems for zero-to-negative greenhouse gas emissions, zero-waste recycling, and 100% clean renewable energy by 2030 in order to reverse the climate crisis and other environmental problems.

This full-strength Green New Deal includes an Economic Bill of Rights to end poverty and economic despair. It provides for a job guarantee, a guaranteed income above poverty, affordable housing, Medicare for All, lifelong tuition-free public education, and a secure retirement by doubling Social Security benefits. We need the Green New Deal now for economic recovery as well as climate safety.

If Farm Workers Are “Essential,” Why Are They Treated So Badly?

On March 19, 2020, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, spurred to action by the coronavirus pandemic, issued a memorandum that identified the nation’s 2.5 million farm workers as “essential” workers.  Soon thereafter, agribusinesses began distributing formal letters to their farm laborers, also declaring that that they were “essential.”

Of course, it shouldn’t have required a government-business effort to establish this point.  Without farm workers, there is no food.  And the American people need food to survive.

But, remarkably, over the course of U.S. history, farm workers, although essential, have been terribly mistreated.  Whether as slaves, indentured servants, sharecroppers, or migrant laborers, these millions of hardworking people endured harsh and brutal lives, enriching others while living (and usually dying) in poverty.

Nor is the situation very different today.  Farm labor remains hard, grinding physical toil, often requiring long hours of bending and repetitive motion to gather crops under conditions of extreme heat.  Back strain, poisoning by pesticides, and other injuries, sometimes leading to death, contribute to making agriculture one of the nation’s most hazardous industries.  Employment is often seasonal or otherwise precarious.

Some problems hit portions of the farm labor force particularly hard.  Roughly half of all farm workers are undocumented immigrants, a status that places them in constant fear of being arrested, deported, and separated from their families.   Furthermore, women farm workers face high levels of sexual harassment, thereby confronting them with the difficult choice of reporting it and facing the possibility of being fired or remaining silent and allowing the harassment to continue.

In recent decades, the federal government has prosecuted numerous growers and labor traffickers in the Southeastern United States for what one U.S. attorney called “slavery, plain and simple.”  These cases revealed farm workers were lured to the United States under false pretenses and, then, deprived of their passports, chained, held under armed guard, and forced to work.  If they refused, they were threatened with violence, beaten, drugged, raped, pistol whipped, and even shot.  In 2015, President Obama awarded the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which exposed these practices, the Presidential Award for Extraordinary Efforts in Combatting Modern Day Slavery.

Although people performing some of the hardest and most essential work in the United States certainly seem to deserve a break―or at least reasonable compensation―they have not received it.  In 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, a quarter of all farm workers had a family income below the official poverty level, while most of the others teetered just above it.  Most of them were forced to rely on at least one public assistance program.  Even after some of the more progressive states raised the state minimum wage, the average wages of farm workers remained abysmal.  In 2019, they earned only a little more than half the hourly pay rate of all American workers.

Moreover, they now face enormous danger from the coronavirus pandemic.  Greg Asbed, a leading voice for agricultural laborers, has pointed out that, for farm workers, “the two most promising measures for protecting ourselves from the virus and preventing its spread―social distancing and self-isolation―are virtually impossible.”  Many farm workers live, crowded together, in decrepit, narrow trailers or barracks, ride to and from their workplaces in crowded buses, have little access to water and soap once in the fields, and cook and shower in the same cramped housing facility.  Rapid contagion is almost inevitable, and very few have access to healthcare of any kind.

Despite the heightened danger, though, working―even working while sick―is the only practical option for farm workers, for, given their impoverishment, they cannot afford to be unemployed.  Very few receive paid sick days.  Some, to be sure, will be assisted by the one-time $1,200 payment Congress voted for members of low and middle income families.  But undocumented workers, who constitute so many of the nation’s millions of farm workers, are excluded from the provisions of that legislation.  Nor are undocumented workers eligible for unemployment insurance―although, of course, they pay the taxes that fund these programs, as well as the programs that are now bailing out America’s multi-billion dollar industries.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is getting set to deliver yet another blow to farm workers.  Almost a tenth of that work force is comprised of Mexican guest workers, legally admitted to the United States for short periods under the U.S. Agriculture Department’s H-2A program.  As America’s big agricultural growers are perennially short of laborers to harvest their crops, they have pressed hard for the admission of these guest workers.  But they dislike the fact that, to avoid undercutting the wages of American workers, the H-2A program sets the wage level for guest workers at local American wage standards.  And in states like California, the state’s rising minimum wage has lifted the wages of farm workers considerably beyond the pitiful federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.  As a result, the growers have fought for years to reduce the wages paid to guest workers.  Finally, in April 2020, the news broke that their dream of cheap labor would soon be realized, for the Trump administration is now laying plans to lower the guest worker wage rate to $8.34 an hour.  These plans, made at the same time that farmers and ranchers are about to receive a $16 billion federal bailout, will cut between $2 and $5 per hour from the pay of guest farm workers.

Naturally, small labor organizations like the United Farm Workers, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee are fiercely resisting the continued exploitation of the 2.5 million people who grow and harvest America’s food.  But there are severe limits to their power, given the greed of the agribusiness industry, plus the nakedly pro-business policies of the Trump administration and its Republican allies in Congress and many states.  For the time being, at least, farm workers seem likely to remain essential, but expendable.

The Decade Of Transformation Is Here: Remaking The Economy For The People

The pandemic, economic collapse and the government’s response to them are going to not only determine the 2020 election but define the future for this decade and beyond. People are seeing the failure of the US healthcare nonsystem and the economy. The government was able to provide trillions for big business and Wall Street without asking the usual, “Where will we get the money?” However, the rescue bill recently passed by Congress provides a fraction of what most people need to get through this period. Once again, a pandemic will reshape the course of history.

Last week, we wrote about the failings of the healthcare system and the need for a universal, publicly-funded system. This week, we focus on the need to change the US economic system. The economic crisis in the United States is breaking all records. The class war that has existed for decades is being magnified and sharpened. The failings of financialized, neoliberal capitalism is being brought into focus at a time when people in the United States have greater support for socializing the economy than in recent times.

This Thursday, there was a record 3.3 million applications for unemployment, an increase of three million from the previous week, but on the same day, there was a record rise in the stock market. This contradiction shows the divide between the economic insecurity of the people and investors profiting from the crisis. The 11.4 percent increase in the stock market on Thursday was the largest increase since 1933 while the record rise in unemployment was 40 percent higher than ever recorded. Projections are for 30 percent unemployment this quarter, which is five percent higher than the worst of the Great Depression.

The response to the economic crisis reveals who the government represents. While people’s economic insecurity grew, the government acted to primarily benefit the wealthiest. This realization should spur an uprising like the United States has never seen before. Perhaps the most dangerous to the ruling class is their incompetence has been exposed. As Glen Ford writes, “The capitalist ‘crisis of legitimacy’ may have passed the point of no return, as the Corporate State proves daily that it cannot perform the basic function of protecting the lives of its citizens.”

Disaster Aid: Crumbs For The People, Trillions For The Wealthiest

Congress unanimously passed a $1.6 trillion coronavirus disaster aid bill this week. This is almost equal to the 2009 Recovery Act and the 2008 Wall Street rescue combined. Democrat’s votes were essential to passing the bill so they could have demanded whatever they wanted. This bill shows the bi-partisan priority for big business.

The bill is too little too late for people who have lost their jobs and for small businesses that have been forced to close. The law includes a one-time $1,200 payment to most people. This payment will arrive after rent and other debt payments are due for a US population with record debt. Congress does not understand the economic realities of people in the United States. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz explained what was needed saying, “The answer is we need no evictions, no foreclosures on all properties, and the government should guarantee pay.” In addition, credit card companies should also put “a stay on interest on all debt.”

When COVID-19 first began, we pointed out that the US healthcare system was not prepared to respond and showed the problems of putting profits before health. The COVID-19 rescue bill did not pay for coronavirus testing or treatment. Millions of people who lose their jobs will lose their health insurance, demonstrating why healthcare should not be tied to employment. Adding to health problems, the law did not increase the SNAP food program for the poor.

Roughly one-third of the funding goes to direct payments to people, unemployment insurance for four months, hospitals, veterans’ care, and public transit. Two-thirds go to government and corporations. Adam Levitin describes the law as “robbing taxpayers to bail out the rich.”

Congress allotted at least $454 billion to support big business in addition to $46 billion for specific industries, especially airlines. Some of these funds will also bail out the fossil fuel industry. According to the way the Federal Reserve operates, they will be allowed to spend ten times the amount Congress allocated to support big business, $4.5 trillion. Jack Rasmus writes that the Federal Reserve had already “allocated no less than $6.2 Trillion so far to bail out the banks and investors.” He summarizes the disparity: “Meanwhile Congress provides one-fourth that, and only one-third of that one fourth, for the Main St., workers, and middle-class families.”

Trump shows the disdain government has for the people and its favoritism for big business and investors as he objected to paying for 80,000 life-saving ventilators because they cost $1 billion while the government provides trillions to big business and investors. Governors and hospitals are issuing dire warnings of what is to come, but the federal government is not listening.

Economic Collapse Shows The Need For Transformational Change

The economic collapse is still unfolding. The US is already in a deep recession that is likely to be worse than the 2008 financial crisis and could develop into a greater depression if the COVID-19 economic shutdown lasts a long time.

Already, the crises, the government’s support for Wall Street and its failure to protect the 99% are creating louder demands for system change. We need to put forward a bold agenda and agitate around it to demand economic security for all. As Margaret Kimberly writes, we are entering a period of revolutionary change because we know returning to normal is “the opposite of what we need.” Or as Vijay Prashad says, “Normal was the problem.”

While the urgent health and economic crises dominate, the climate crisis also continues. The climate crisis already required replacing the fossil fuel era with a clean and sustainable energy economy and remaking multiple sectors of the economy such as construction, transportation, agriculture, and infrastructure. Now, out of these crises, a new sustainable economic democracy can be born where people control finance, inequality is minimized and workers are empowered, along with creating public programs that meet the necessities of the people and protect the planet.

The US Constitution gives the government the power to create money; Article I, Section 8 says: “The Congress shall have power … to coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin.” Congress needs to take back that power so the government can create debt-free money. Currently, the Federal Reserve, which was created by Congress in 1913, is the privately-owned US central bank that produces money and sets interest rates. It puts the interests of the big banks first. The Fed can be altered, nationalized or even dismantled by Congress. Its functions could be put into the Department of the Treasury.

Monetary actions need to be transparent and designed to serve the necessities of the people and the planet. Money should be spent by the government into the economy to meet those needs while preventing inflation and deflation. In this way, the government would have the funds needed to transform to a green energy economy, rebuild infrastructure, provide education from pre-school through college without tuition, create the healthcare infrastructure we need for universal healthcare and more.  In addition, through a network of state and local public banks, people would be able to get cost-only mortgages and loans to meet their needs.

Moving money creation into the federal government would place it within the constitutional system of checks and balances where the people have a voice to ensure it works for the whole society, not only for the bankers and the privileged. This could end the parasitic private banking system and replace it with a democratic public system designed for the people’s needs as Mexico is doing.

Globalization must be reconsidered. Corporate globalization with trade agreements that favor corporate power is a root cause of this global pandemic. We need trade that puts people and the planet first and encourages local production of goods. This includes remaking agriculture to support smaller farms and urban farming using organic and regenerative techniques that increase the nutritional value of foods and sequester carbon.

What we need instead is popular globalization – developing solidarity and reciprocity between people around the world. We can learn from each other, collaborate and provide mutual aid in times of crisis as Cuba and other countries are doing now.

As businesses are bailed out by the government, they could be required to protect and empower workers. Workers’ rights have been shrinking since the 1950s as unions have become smaller and more allied with business interests. The right to collective bargaining needs to be included as a requirement for receiving government funds. For large public corporations, workers should be given a board seat, indeed the government should be given a board seat and an equity share in any corporation that is bailed out. For smaller businesses, as they reopen, it is an opportunity to restructure so worker ownership and workers sharing in the profits become the norm.

The US needs to build the economy from the bottom up. The era of trickle-down economics that has existed since the early 80s has failed most people in the United States. The government needs to create a full-employment economy with the government as the employer of last resort. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives US infrastructure a grade of D+ requiring a $2 trillion dollar investment that would create millions of jobs. The Green New Deal would create 30 million jobs over ten years according to the detailed plan put forward by the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins.

The coronavirus disaster aid includes a payment to every person in the US earning under $70,000. While the one-time $1,200 check is grossly insufficient, it demonstrates the possibility of a universal basic income. This would lift people out of poverty and protect them from the coming age of robots and artificial intelligence that will impact millions of existing jobs. The evidence is growing that a basic income works. A World Bank analysis of 19 studies found that cash transfers have been demonstrated to improve education and health outcomes and alleviate poverty

The United States economy is in a debt crisis that demands quantitative easing for the people. Personal, corporate and government debt is at a record high. While the economic collapse is being blamed on the coronavirus, the reality is that the pandemic was a trigger that led to a recession that was already coming. The US needs to correct those fundamentals — massive debt, a wealth divide, inadequate income, poverty — as part of restarting the economy. Just as the Fed has bought debts to relieve businesses of debt burden, it can do the same for the personal debts of people. We should start by ending the crisis of student debt, which is preventing two generations from participating in the economy. While we make post-high school vocational and college education tuition-free, we should not leave behind the generations suffering from high-priced education.

Rise-Up and Demand Change

To create change, people must demand it. Even before the coronavirus collapse, people were demanding an end to inequality, worker rights, climate justice, and improved Medicare for all, among other issues. In the last two years, the United States has seen record numbers of striking workers. The climate movement is blocking pipelines and infrastructure and shutting down cities. Protests against inequality and debt resistance have existed since the occupy movement.

Now, with the economic collapse, protests are increasing. It’s Going Down reports: “with millions of people now wondering how they are going to make ends meet and pay rent, let alone survive the current epidemic, a new wave of struggles is breaking out across the social terrain. Prisoners and detention center detainees are launching hunger strikes as those on the outside demand that they be released, tenants are currently pushing for a rent strike starting on April 1st, the houseless are taking over vacant homes in Los Angeles, and workers have launched a series of wildcat strikers, sick-outs, and job actions in response to being forced onto the front lines of the pandemic like lambs to the slaughter.”

Workers at the Fiat Chrysler Windsor Assembly Plant walked off the job over concerns about the spread of coronavirus. Pittsburgh garbage collectors refused to pick up trash because their health was not being protected. Chipotle employees walked off the job and publicly protested the company for allegedly penalizing workers who call in sick. Perdue employees in Georgia walked off their jobs on a production line over a wage dispute and management asked workers to put in extra hours without a pay increase during the pandemic. Some Whole Foods workers announced a collective action in the form of a “sick out,” with workers using their sick days in order to strike. In Italy, wildcat strikes erupted to demand that plants be closed for the duration of the virus. Postal workers in London took strike actions due to the risks of the virus.

The pandemic requires creativity in protest. Technology allows us to educate and organize online, as well as to protest, petition, email, and call. There have also been car marches, public transport drivers have refused to monitor tickets, collective messages have been sent from balconies and windows. People are showing they can be innovative to get our message across to decision-makers. We can also build community and strengthen bonds with mutual aid.

If the ownership class continues its call to re-open the economy despite the health risks, the potential of a general strike can become a reality. When Trump called for returning to work the hashtags #GeneralStrike and #GeneralStrike2020— calling on workers everywhere to walk off the job — began trending on Twitter. Rather than a strike against one corporation, people would strike across multiple businesses and could also include a rent and mortgage strike as well as a debt strike. The coronavirus has shown that essential workers are among the lowest-paid workers and that they make the economy function. We also understand that if people refuse to pay their debts or rent, the financial system will collapse. Understanding those realities gives a new understanding of the power of the people.

A general strike, as Rosa Luxembourg described it in 1906, is not ‘one isolated action” but a rallying call for a campaign of “class struggle lasting for years, perhaps for decades.” A general strike could take many forms, including a global day of action. Before the current crises, we saw the decade of the 2020s as a decade of potential transformational change because on multiple fronts movements were growing and demanding responses to an array of crises. Now, the triggers for the economic collapse could also be the trigger for transformational revolt.

We are all in this together. We are all connected and share a common humanity. If we act in solidarity during this time of crisis and in this decade of transformation, we can create the future we want to see for ourselves and future generations.